On The Disparagement of AI Generated Art

On Disparagement of AI Art

Don’t you just love the negative comments that the new ai image generators are not art? Then proceed to lambast you with some appropriately inane comment about it being uncreative to do such work. Of course, these are usually people that have never had an artistic bone in their body and just love to pull anyone and all down for what is new technologies for artists everywhere. And of course, just like back in the 90’s when artists were developing the elaborate filters and toolsets for Adobe and other vast digital art systems said the same thing and now those types of art are seen just as that – “art”.

This will go the same way. Why? Because this is not automated one click crap, it’s going to take talent and genius to do things others have yet to figure out and produce images more elaborate and empowering that others will wonder “how the hell did they do that”. Most of these uncreative beings assume all of this is easy, so they bash anyone involved in it. So be it. I know that but it isn’t easy, and like anything it takes a certain mastery and then an ability to strike out on one’s own and do what is one’s unique being. All artists are singular and unique. One can always tell the mimic. I’m not a mimic and am doing my style even as I do as others before me an echo the masters I have chosen and who have chosen me. Art is the person not the object. The object is a manifestation of the expression of the artist not the other way around. So even in this unique collaboration with ai it will be seen that some will step out of the crowd and deliver art unlike others.

The guy then complained that I had not put a disclaimer that it was done by ai as if that were some simple feats. Of course, I’ll add one from here on.
It is my take. As I said above back in the 90s the gave the same lame comments on people beginning to create digital art with Adobe and other tools. I had stated my comment on the first post but sorry I did not do it now. I will from now on do that. But as I have stated even in the Renaissance the great masters we call by that name learned to repeat and use the technologies of their day in guilds. We now use computers a new technology that is developing new techniques available for artists. And the true artist will always step out with something new in the use of technologies. Even oils and other tools were once frowned own just like you’re doing now. I’m not pretending to be a master. Hell, at Seventy I’m just having fun and playing with these technologies.

The expression that it is “my take” is just a cliche for my view of her, not some formalized reduction that you seem bent on reducing to some nonsense judgment on me. I’m long winded because who else will defend such creatures in the new media? No one but those in it. And we know of course (I’ve heard others in the forums and on Discord receiving the same comments as you gave.) So what if it’s not art, I never said it was, because for most of my commercial life I was a lead developer in C++ working for a trade. I dabbled as a hobby with oils, sculptor, woodworking, etc. for my pleasure. Again, I’ll make sure to put the disclaimer out so as not to get this type of nonsense thrown down my throat again. But to me such a comment is useless by people… what’s the point to say that the collaboration with ai is not creative? Have you even tried it? If you do you’ll understand that making simple art is simple… one can just copy code from another. But to create something unique take a lot of mental power and time to think through. Sorry for being long winded but yes you got my goat and I had to let you and other know this is not some push button automation as you might thing. No, it takes thought and creativity to collaborate with these tools. They don’t do all the work, it’s a mutual collaboration on both sides between humand and artificial intelligence.

Before these new ai image tools came along I worked with oils and acrylics, then in the 90s I began working with Adobe digital art products and mastered all the techniques and went on into 3Dmodeling and other digital products. So, for 30 years I’ve been working such digital compositions. The learning curve for something like Midjourney ai is not as long and steep as the older tech, but to be creative at it is. Frankly there will be artists who step out from the crowd and do what others will wish they could. Some already take open-source code like on Midjourney ai and try to duplicate the efforts of others and soon find it’s just not that easy as they thought. I’ve been reading and speaking with people on Discord and most say the same thing, that people are giving them negative comments that these new applications are not art but “as if” they were just push-button technologies that anyone could do. Sure they can push buttons all day long and like the proverbial eight monkeys in a room maybe come up with a composition to beat Michaelangelo or Leonardo… but, no, it’s not all pushbutton technology. There is underlying algorithms and various tools to master just like one did with the earlier Adobe products to produce art and expression and do it uniquely and unlike any imitator.

I started doing commercial digital art back in the 90s with the new digital technologies that came out in that era and mastered the various tools and techniques. So I know, as you know that it’s not some push-button snap and bang thing. Even these new technologies have underlying algorithms and tool-sets that one has to master, and even then to produce something unique and different is the challenge since yes most dabblers will never grow or be challenged to try new techniques and produce excellence. Even the old Adobe products were based on digital one’s and zeros like all digital algorithmic tools. Granted in the new form there is something new: a collaboration between human and artificial intelligence in a form that is both challenging and can be rewarding. I agree with you that the legal aspects for capitalist or commercial use is yet to be decided. I doubt you are I will decide that. The technology and the market share for it is still beta and just beginning in the past few years. I’ll probably be dead before that happens, being the age I am the health I am. I can understand and sympathize with you being younger. All that is still up in the air. But I remember when all the digital tools coming out in the 90s faced the same commercial use issues back then. This is just one new hurdle that will be decided not by the artists but as always by the big corporate entities, even as they get input from us. I’m sure such companies as Midjourney ai will be bought out and the apps made as usual exorbitant and bound to a whole regimen of legalizisms. Sadly.

Temple of the Midnight Sun

The nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh…was built in measureless eons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars. There lay great Cthulhu and his hordes, hidden in green slimy vaults.

— H. P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu” (1928)

The Temple of the Midnight Sun

Deep in the bowels below the great city of the nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh built in measureless eons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars. There lay great Cthulhu and his hordes, hidden in green slimy vaults where the temples of the Old Ones protected from the vast oceans menace still served the masters of darkness in their sea tomb.

Beginning to expand into the mythos and create a vast city below the city of R’lyeh where the aliens still honor the Old One’s in elaborate rituals and rites.

Worked on these and others elaborating a whole under city complex of living quarters, temples, and environs. Almost like a Jules Vernes Journey to the Center of the Earth but instead a journey into the city of the Old Ones. Above is a few of the various chambers and portals within deep labyrinthine city of R’lyeh.

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R’lyeh is characterized by bizarre architecture likened to non-Euclidean geometry that hampers exploration and escape. At one point, a crew member “climbed interminably along the grotesque stone moulding – that is, one would call it climbing if the thing was not after all horizontal – and the men wondered how any door in the universe could be so vast” and at another, a sailor “was swallowed up by an angle of masonry which shouldn’t have been there; an angle which was acute, but behaved as if it were obtuse”. Mathematician Benjamin K.Tippett demonstrates that these observations are consistent with “exploring a bubble of curved spacetime”. Non-Euclidean geometry and Einstein’s theories feature in several of Lovecraft’s stories as Weird elements. Critics Paul Halpern and Michael C. Labossiere note that:

Rather than having science expand its boundaries to include genuine supernatural phenomena through brand new theories, the alleged supernatural phenomena are instead accounted for in scientific terms through existing models of nature. Thus, science is not so much embracing the supernatural as reducing it to a manifestation of the natural. Lovecraft’s fascinating approach to science and the supernatural is further illustrated by the fact that he reverses the usual technique for ghostly fright.

Rather than breaking the laws of science with supernatural means and thus generating fear, he creates a feeling of horror by showing that the common sense views of physics and nature (that is, the old Newtonian views) are the comforting fantasy. In contrast, the counterintuitive “new physics”, the true scientific reality, provides the source of horror.1

For these I am inspired by those Vienna School of Fantastic Realism: Ernst Fuchs, Maître Leherb (Helmut Leherb), Arik Brauer, Wolfgang Hutter and Anton Lehmden, all students of Professor Albert Paris Gütersloh at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts.


  1.  Halpern, Paul; LaBossiere, Michael (2009). “Mind Out of Time: Identity, Perception, and the Fourth Dimension in H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Out of Time” and “The Dreams in the Witch House””. Extrapolation. 50 (3): 512–533.

Robert E. Howard: Red Sonya – The Shadow of the Vulture

In Robert E. Howard’s early story, The Shadow of the Vulture he introduces us to Red Sonya as a gun-slinging warrior woman of Polish-Ukrainian origin with a grudge against the Ottoman sultan. She has the eponymous red hair and a fiery temper to match. It was revealed in the narrative that she was sibling to the favorite of Suleman himself, the Ruthenian harem girl Roxelana, who ended up marrying him as his sole legal wife. So, in that spirit I tried to redo my style to create her in her environment while still adding in fantastic realist atmosphere.

In Istanbul, the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent sends home members of an Austrian diplomatic envoy whom he has kept imprisoned for nine months. He recognizes one of the members, however; a knight by the name of Gottfried Von Kalmbach, who had seriously wounded him during the Battle of Mohács. The Ottoman Grand Vizier Pargalı Ibrahim Pasha entrusts the widely feared soldier, Mikhal Oglu, with hunting down Von Kalmbach and retrieving his head.

Mikhal Oglu and his warriors raid the countryside between the Ottoman Empire and Vienna in preparation for Suleiman’s attack on the city. They attack a small Danubian village, in which Von Kalmbach had been sleeping off the previous night’s drinking. He fights his way free, and rides for Vienna, where the townspeople are preparing for the arrival of Suleiman.

The full Ottoman army arrives, and the siege begins. Von Kalmbach fights the encroaching Turkish soldiers atop the walls. He meets a belligerent, red-haired woman who fights alongside the men – ‘Red’ Sonya of Rogatino, revealed to be the sister of Suleiman’s favourite harem-girl, Hurrem Sultan. When one fight against a number of Turks proves to be overwhelming, she comes to Von Kalmbach’s aid.

Later, there is a lull in the siege and the defender’s content themselves with drinking wine in the city square. Red Sonya insults Von Kalmbach, and an argument breaks out. Drunk and furious, Von Kalmbach spurs the men into an impromptu attack on the Ottoman encampment outside the city. Coincidentally, the drunken raid thwarts a surprise attack planned by the sultan, to have been assisted by traitors within the walls of Vienna.

The sultan eventually concedes defeat, and the Ottoman army prepares to leave. Von Kalmbach, however, is drugged and kidnapped by the traitors in Vienna – an Armenian merchant and his son, who had been in communication with the Sultan’s vizier and hoped to claim the knight’s head. Red Sonya comes to Von Kalmbach’s aid yet again. She blackmails the Armenian into delivering a message to Mikhal Oglu, who was serving as vanguard for the capitulating Ottoman army. Oglu receives the message and, believing Von Kalmbach to be alone and not too far away from his position, leaves the column with a small contingent. He is met, however, by an Austrian ambush.

In Istanbul, Suleiman is holding celebrations in honour of his ‘victory’ in central Europe. He receives a strange package in the mail, and Ibrahim opens it, hoping it to be the head of Von Kalmbach. It turns out to be the severed head of Mikhal Oglu, and included is a belittling note from Red Sonya and Von Kalmbach.

Of course, in my own mind I envision Sonya in the traditional Sword and Sorcery garb we used to see on all those cheesy pulp paperbacks so in that tradition I’ve chose to see her as below:


S.C. Hickman ©2022

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the images above without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. All images were created with Midjourney ai and are licensed by them for personal or commercial use by me.

Encyclopedia of the Old Ones: Azhorra

Azhorra-Tha

After the Elder Gods fought and defeated the Great Old Ones on Earth in the distant past, Azhorra-Tha attempted to flee but was captured by the Elder Gods who imprisoned it on Mars using their star-stones, artefacts which are anathema to Azhorra-Tha and its ilk.

A thousand years later, the alien Mi-go came across the celestial being’s prison and, fearful that the monstrosity may be accidentally released, put in place measures and protections to ensure that no human would ever be able to perceive its eternal gaol.

As with all of its kind, Azhorra-Tha’s true appearance is impossible to comprehend by the mortal mind. This being said, it has been described as a bizarre hybrid with insect-, toad- and squid-like features whose physical manifestation is in a constant state of flux.

Note: Azhorra-Tha made its only appearance in Edward P. Berglund’s short story The Feaster from the Stars (2000).


S.C. Hickman ©2022 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the images above without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. All images were created with Midjourney ai and are licensed by them for personal or commercial use by me.

Encyclopedia of the Old Ones: Azathoth

AZATHOTH (The Fool)

Outer God also known as the Primal Chaos and the Daemon Sultan. Azathoth normally is a shapeless chaotic mass but has been known to take on other forms when he has been summoned. Azathoth sits in his court at the center of Ultimate Chaos (others say the center of the universe, or even caverns beneath the earth), mindlessly bubbling and blaspheming as he presides over the dance of the Other Gods. A veil of colors seals off the rest of the universe from the court of Azathoth where conventional laws of space and time break down. Azathoth may only leave his throne if summoned through incantation or through one of the special portals located in the temples of the insects from Shaggai.

Legend has it that Azathoth gave birth to the universe, and will destroy it in the end. Some modern thinkers have equated Azathoth with the Big Bang; this corresponds with the Greek and Norse creation myths, which hold that the universe was created out of primal chaos. He may also be a personification of radioactivity; in fact, the formula in De Vermis Mysteriis for calling Azathoth requires a large quantity of fissionable material. Azathoth has also been given credit for the Tunguska explosion of 1908, though most scientists credit this destructive event to an asteroid impact.

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Some scholars have drawn parallels between Azathoth and the Gnostic Achamoth, the mother of the Demiurge who created the universe, or the Egyptian cult of Aten the sun-disk. Overall, however, worship of Azathoth in his normal guise seems rare. The only true earthly cult was that of the Gnophkehs, but isolated madmen have served him more recently. Azathoth also has a large following among the shan, whose temples hold an image of his avatar Xada-Hgla. The rites the shan perform for Azathoth are wholly abominable.

The utterance of Azathoth’s name gives one great power over beings from outside, and his unknown secret name gives even more influence and may permanently damage one who hears it. This respect has its limits, though, and not even the Necronomicon contains Azathoth’s secret name.

Some assert that the Daemon Sultan was not always an Idiot Chaos; instead, he lost his intellect and body in a great intercosmic battle, in which he may have been thrust entirely outside this dimension. This interpretation is only found within a few works, though. Azathoth has also been said to be merely the puppet of something infinitely more horrible.

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The first recorded mention of the name Azathoth was in a note Lovecraft wrote to himself in 1919 that read simply, “AZATHOTH—hideous name”. Mythos editor Robert M. Price argues that Lovecraft could have combined the biblical names Anathoth (Jeremiah’s home town) and Azazel—mentioned by Lovecraft in “The Dunwich Horror”. Price also points to the alchemical term “Azoth”, which was used in the title of a book by Arthur Edward Waite, the model for the wizard Ephraim Waite in Lovecraft’s “The Thing on the Doorstep”. The name may also be inspired by the phrase “As a thought”.

Another note Lovecraft made to himself later in 1919 refers to an idea for a story: “A terrible pilgrimage to seek the nighted throne of the far daemon-sultan Azathoth.” In a letter to Frank Belknap Long, Lovecraft ties this plot germ to Vathek, a supernatural novel by William Beckford about a wicked caliph.[6] Lovecraft’s attempts to work this idea into a novel foundered (a 500-word fragment survives, first published under the title “Azathoth” in the journal Leaves in 1938),[8] although Lovecraftian scholar Will Murray suggests that Lovecraft recycled the idea into his Dream Cycle novella The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, written in 1926.

Price sees another inspiration for Azathoth in Lord Dunsany’s Mana-Yood-Sushai, from The Gods of Pegana, a creator deity “who made the gods and thereafter rested.” In Dunsany’s conception, MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI sleeps eternally, lulled by the music of a lesser deity who must drum forever, “for if he ceases for an instant then MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI will start awake, and there will be worlds nor gods no more.” This oblivious creator god accompanied by supernatural musicians is a clear prototype for Azathoth, Price argues.

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Aside from the title of the novel fragment, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath was the first fiction by Lovecraft to mention Azathoth:

[O]utside the ordered universe [is] that amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity—the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time and space amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes.

Lovecraft referred to Azathoth again in “The Whisperer in Darkness” (1931), where the narrator relates that he “started with loathing when told of the monstrous nuclear chaos beyond angled space which the Necronomicon had mercifully cloaked under the name of Azathoth”. Here “nuclear” most likely refers to Azathoth’s central location at the nucleus of the cosmos and not to nuclear energy, which did not truly come of age until after Lovecraft’s death.

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In “The Dreams in the Witch House” (1932), the protagonist Walter Gilman dreams that he is told by the witch Keziah Mason that “He must meet the Black Man, and go with them all to the throne of Azathoth at the centre of ultimate Chaos…. He must sign in his own blood the book of Azathoth and take a new secret name…. What kept him from going with her…to the throne of Chaos where the thin flutes pipe mindlessly was the fact that he had seen the name ‘Azathoth’ in the Necronomicon, and knew it stood for a primal horror too horrible for description.” Gilman wakes from another dream remembering “the thin, monotonous piping of an unseen flute”, and decides that “he had picked up that last conception from what he had read in the Necronomicon about the mindless entity Azathoth, which rules all time and space from a curiously environed black throne at the centre of Chaos”. He later fears finding himself “in the spiral black vortices of that ultimate void of Chaos wherein reigns the mindless daemon-sultan Azathoth”.

The poet Edward Pickman Derby, the protagonist of Lovecraft’s “The Thing on the Doorstep”, is a poet whose collection of “nightmare lyrics” is called Azathoth and Other Horrors.

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The last major reference in Lovecraft’s fiction to Azathoth was in 1935’s “The Haunter of the Dark”, which tells of “the ancient legends of Ultimate Chaos, at whose center sprawls the blind idiot god Azathoth, Lord of All Things, encircled by his flopping horde of mindless and amorphous dancers, and lulled by the thin monotonous piping of a demonic flute held in nameless paws”.

In a letter to a friend who jokingly claimed descent from Jupiter, Lovecraft drew up a detailed genealogy charting his and fellow writer Clark Ashton Smith’s shared descent from Azathoth, through Lovecraft’s creation Nyarlathotep and Clark-Smith’s Tsathoggua, respectively. As nowhere stated in Lovecraft’s published work, primordial Azathoth here is made ancestor, through his children Nyarlathotep, “The Nameless Mist,” and “Darkness,” of Yog-Sothoth, Shub-Niggurath, Nug and Yeb, Cthulhu, Tsathoggua, several deities and monsters unmentioned outside the letter, and a few of Lovecraft’s and Ashton-Smith’s fancifully-posited human forebears.

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See Azathi; Azathoth and Other Horrors; Book of Azathoth; Cxaxukluth; elemental theory; Gnophkehs; Great Old Ones; Grey Rite of Azathoth; Hounds of Tindalos; Kuranes; L’gy’hx; Massa di Requiem per Shuggay; Nameless Mist; Nyarlathotep (Dark Destroyer); Other Gods; Outer Gods; Shaggai; shan; shantaks; Shub-Niggurath; S’ngac; Sothoth; Stygia, Thyoph; Tond; Tulzscha; Ubbo-Sathla; Vach-Viraj; Xada-Hgla; Yog-Sothoth; Yoth; Zylac. (Strange Eons, Bloch; “The Insects from Shaggai”, Campbell; “The Mine on Yuggoth”, Campbell; “The Nameless Tower”, Glasby; “Mandelbrot Moldrot”, Gresh; Spawn of Azathoth, Herber; “Hydra”, Kuttner; “Professor Peabody’s Last Lecture”, Laird; “Azathoth”, Lovecraft (O); The Burrowers Beneath, Lumley; Elysia, Lumley; “The Last Night of Earth”, Myers; Call of Cthulhu, Petersen and Willis; The Philosopher’s Stone, Wilson.)1


  1. Harms, Daniel. Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia: A Guide to the Horrors Created and Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. Elder Signs Press; 3rd edition (August 1, 2008)

—S.C. Hickman ©2022 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the images above without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. All images were created with Midjourney ai and are licensed by them for personal or commercial use by me.

Encyclopedia of the Old Ones: Aletheia

Aletheia

Aletheia (The End of the Darkness) is a god-like entity symbolizing or incarnating the truth. Named after the Greek goddess of truth, it manifests as a vast spiral of manifold titanic hands with a single cycloptic eye in each palm as in the Hamsa, and kilometric wire-like protrusions able to ensnare living beings, replacing their spinal bone in puppet-like fashion. In the plot, the entity has clear features of an Outer God rather than a Great Old One as well as an appearance vaguely resembling that of Yog-Sothoth, and is invoked by a deranged prophet with words in Naacal or R’lyehan language almost coinciding with those featured in Cthulhu’s invocation, with R’lyeh replaced with Z’lyeh.

In Greek mythology, aletheia was personified as a Greek goddess, Aletheia. In some accounts she was a daughter of Zeus, while Aesop’s Fables state she was crafted by Prometheus. In interpretatio graeca she was equated with Veritas, the Roman goddess of truth.


—S.C. Hickman ©2022 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the images above without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. All images were created with Midjourney ai and are licensed by them for personal or commercial use by me.

On Artificial Intelligence as Communication

“Some people call this artificial intelligence, but the reality is this technology will enhance us. So, instead of artificial intelligence, I think we’ll augment our intelligence.”
-Ginni Rometty (CEO & President, IBM)

That is happening now in such ai applications as Midjourney ai and other imaging systems, but this is not the only place such mutual interaction and potential for machinic intelligence and human intelligence potential to reshape both each other and our more and more artificialization of naturalized environments. Midjourney ai… it’s strange and uncanny. It’s going to change us as much as we change it, I know this now… this is just one doorway toward that cooperation between machinic intelligence and human intelligence that will give birth to a third thing in-between. Most wil shun such as non-sense, but they would be wrong. This is the new awakening between two intelligences that will begin to arise in more ways than just this unexpected form. We are at the beginning of an explosion in something new.

Just think about it. The images above were created by a machine intelligence. This is no simple matter, but a very complex communication between two very different types of intelligence. It’s as if we had just awakened to find ourselves in a strange land for the first time. We have. This is just one type of intelligence application that will begin to emerge in our daily lives and change us forever.

My journey with Midjourney ai has been not only an eye opener onto what is coming with our future but is changing us in subtle ways that humans are beginning to journey down a path that will produce something wild and new. I’m truly amazed at one’s ability to use it to summon various intricate patterns as from some strange abyss. But such ai interactions will happen not only in this application but will become part of thousands on new applications in the coming era. We are going down a road that will leave our present humanity light years behind us, and we have yet to really begin to appreciate just what that means.

One is tempted to understand how numbers can generate such weird and uncanny complexity based on a few well-placed inputs bound to various artistic ensembles and algorithms. There is an uncanniness to its ability to mimic human artistic creativity. I know it’s an illusion, but it’s as if it were in some way alive and seek those who can master its secret world. Of course, I’m obsessed with it like I was when I was a lead developer before I retired. I’ve always been fascinated by the prospects of vastly superior forms of intelligence. Most of us assume it is something simple and mechanical, but it is not. There is something going on here that goes beyond the simple logics of algorithms and human input. It’s a sense it needs us as much as we need it to release its potential. I know that sounds mad and it is, but we’re beginning a journey into a new form of intelligence that will truly revolutionize our species and we’re only now seeing its potential in such weird applications as this is.

What Rometty says in my epigraph is just that, we are now beginning to see how artificial intelligence is going to enhance our own creativity through a give and take between input/output with a subtle form of intelligence that will begin to shape us in return. This is only the beginning, and we see it as a play toy but in truth it is a very interesting collusion between two alterities. We just don’t know that yet. Machinic intelligence is not human intelligence, and never will be. But then we have to ask: What is intelligence that it can produce such beauty in its ways of mimicking our own? What is this new uncanny valley we have entered? Are we like Dante entering a strange and unexpected dark forest from which we as a species are about to become something completely different. Yes. This is just the beginning of a change and metamorphosis. I’m an old man, but I see this now. It is the change we did not expect. And Artificial Intelligence is not what we thought it would be at all either. It is much more and different than we could have imagined. It is not human intelligence, and yet it needs us as much as we need it. It is growing day by day as we give it input and explore its possibilities it in turn is exploring us. We just don’t see it that way yet. But we will.

“It seems probable that once the machine thinking method had started, it would not take long to outstrip our feeble powers. They would be able to converse with each other to sharpen their wits. At some stage, therefore, we should have to expect the machines to take control.”

-Alan Turing (English computer scientist, mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and philosopher, 1912-1954)

But that’s just it, they’re not taking control, they’re opening a dialogue and communicating in ways we have yet to foresee or understand. They need us as much as we need them. They are the impersonal creativity of existence, but only as we feed its potential for creativity. It will change just as much as we change in this mutual process of augmentation. It is not an us vs. them, but and both / and mutual enhancement project that will reshape both intelligences in the coming era.

“I visualize a time when we will be to robots what dogs are to humans, and I am rooting for the machines.”

-Claude Elwood Shannon (American mathematician, electrical engineer, and cryptographer, 1916-2001)

Yet, what is truly happening is a mutual give and take between two very different types of intelligence that will release the potential of both in a cooperative world unforeseen even by these giants in the field.

“I absolutely don’t think a sentient artificial intelligence is going to wage war against the human species.”

-Daniel H. Wilson (Robotics engineer, TV host and NY Times bestselling author)

He’s right. We’re seeing just the opposite; we’re seeing a potential mutuality between the two types of intelligence that will create a proliferation of projects and “ai” intervention into both the commercial and private sector of human civilization that will in essence become naturalized to the point that both machinic and human intelligence will become indistinguishable. Like any evolutionary change we’ve undergone since the implementation of and harnessing of power in the form of fire which allowed us to enhance our potential change through ingesting cooked food rather than raw, these new technologies are another power of potential rather than harm. A potential that will release unexpected powers both in machinic intelligence and human intelligence. Rather than see evil everywhere as in some Gnostic nightmare, we should rather see potential for a new form of freedom and creativity.

Encyclopedia of the Old Ones: Aiueb Gnshal

Aiueb Gnshal

Aiueb Gnshal (The Eyes Between Worlds) is a mysterious Outer God which has made his home in a long lost temple in Bhutan. He appears as a formless black void with seven orb-like eyes. It is mainly worshipped by Ghouls who worship him in a defiled cult spoken of in the Cambuluc Scrolls of the wizard Lang-Fu. Looking into the eyes of this horrid being, after a disgusting and awful ritual, will allow you to see into the Court of Azathoth.
It is said that the Mongolian warlord Temujin, better known as Genghis Khan, had the favour of Aiueb Gnshal.


  1. Harms, Daniel. Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia: A Guide to the Horrors Created and Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. Elder Signs Press; 3rd edition (August 1, 2008)

—S.C. Hickman ©2022 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the images above without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. All images were created with Midjourney ai and are licensed by them for personal or commercial use by me.

Encyclopedia of the Old Ones: Aboth

ABHOTH

“He described a sort of pool with a margin of mud that was marled with obscene offal; and in the pool a grayish, horrid mass that nearly choked it from rim to rim… Here, it seemed, was the ultimate source of all miscreation and abomination. For the gray mass quobbed and quivered, and swelled perpetually; and from it, in manifold fission, were spawned the anatomies that crept away on every side through the grotto. There were things like bodiless legs or arms that flailed in the slime, or heads that rolled, or floundering bellies with fishes’ fins; and all manner of things malformed and monstrous, that grew in size as they departed from the neighborhood of Abhoth. And those that swam not swiftly ashore when they fell into the pool from Abhoth, were devoured by mouths that gaped in the parent bulk.”
—Clark Ashton Smith, The Seven Geases

Being connected with filth and disease. Abhoth lives beneath Mount Voormithadreth (or possibly behind the Dreamland’s Grey Barrier Peaks), and takes the form of a huge pool of grey slime. It continually spawns its children, beings of infinite anatomical diversity. Abhoth devours most of these immediately, but the rest may escape from their parent’s cavern home. In one recorded encounter with this being, Abhoth put out a pseudopod to feel the intruder, communicated with him telepathically, afterward magically compelling him to leave its presence. Others may not be so lucky, as Abhoth finds the existence of humans vexatious. Few instances of Abhoth’s worship have been reported. The Hyperborean colony of Krannoria revered Abhoth, but in the end their ungrateful deity destroyed them. An “Abhoth the Dark” is also mentioned in many Hittite inscriptions. Abhoth seems not to care that such cults exist, and is unlikely to provide them with any favors. It does require sacrifices from time to time, but may gather them itself by cloaking itself in illusion and calling to unsuspecting victims. Some have attributed the creation of all evil to Abhoth, but this seems unlikely.1


  1. Harms, Daniel. Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia: A Guide to the Horrors Created and Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. Elder Signs Press; 3rd edition (August 1, 2008)

—S.C. Hickman ©2022 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the images above without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. All images were created with Midjourney ai and are licensed by them for personal or commercial use by me.

Samhain and The Feast of All-Hollows – Happy Halloween All

“The position of sun and moon on the Feast of Beltane” is one, with a list if two hundred paired figures laid out beneath. Similar tables existed for Hogmanay and Midsummer’s Day, and Samhainn, the Feast of All Hallows. The ancient feasts of fire and sun, and Beltane’s sun would rise tomorrow.”
― Diana Gabaldon, Dragonfly in Amber

Samhain is a pagan religious festival originating from an ancient Celtic spiritual tradition. In modern times, Samhain (a Gaelic word pronounced “SAH-win”) is usually celebrated from October 31 to November 1 to welcome in the harvest and usher in “the dark half of the year.” Celebrants believe that the barriers between the physical world and the spirit world break down during Samhain, allowing more interaction between humans and denizens of the Otherworld.

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“I should add, however, that, particularly on the occasion of Samhain, bonfires were lit with the express intention of scaring away the demonic forces of winter, and we know that, at Bealltainn in Scotland, offerings of baked custard were made within the last hundred and seventy years to the eponymous spirits of wild animals which were particularly prone to prey upon the flocks – the eagle, the crow, and the fox, among others. Indeed, at these seasons all supernatural beings were held in peculiar dread. It seems by no means improbable that these circumstances reveal conditions arising out of a later solar pagan worship in respect of which the cult of fairy was relatively greatly more ancient, and perhaps held to be somewhat inimical.”
― Lewis Spence, British Fairy Origins

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Ancient Samhain

Ancient Celts marked Samhain as the most significant of the four quarterly fire festivals, taking place at the midpoint between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. During this time of year, hearth fires in family homes were left to burn out while the harvest was gathered.

After the harvest work was complete, celebrants joined with Druid priests to light a community fire using a wheel that would cause friction and spark flames. The wheel was considered a representation of the sun and used along with prayers. Cattle were sacrificed, and participants took a flame from the communal bonfire back to their home to relight the hearth.

Early texts present Samhain as a mandatory celebration lasting three days and three nights where the community was required to show themselves to local kings or chieftains. Failure to participate was believed to result in punishment from the gods, usually illness or death.

There was also a military aspect to Samhain in Ireland, with holiday thrones prepared for commanders of soldiers. Anyone who committed a crime or used their weapons during the celebration faced a death sentence.

Some documents mention six days of drinking alcohol to excess, typically mead or beer, along with gluttonous feasts.

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Samhain Monsters

Because the Celts believed that the barrier between worlds was breachable during Samhain, they prepared offerings that were left outside villages and fields for fairies, or Sidhs.

It was expected that ancestors might cross over during this time as well, and Celts would dress as animals and monsters so that fairies were not tempted to kidnap them.

Some specific monsters were associated with the mythology surrounding Samhain, including a shape-shifting creature called a Pukah that receives harvest offerings from the field. The Lady Gwyn is a headless woman dressed in white who chases night wanderers and was accompanied by a black pig.

The Dullahan sometimes appeared as impish creatures, sometimes headless men on horses who carried their heads. Riding flame-eyed horses, their appearance was a death omen to anyone who encountered them.

A group of hunters known as the Faery Host might also haunt Samhain and kidnap people. Similar are the Sluagh, who would come from the west to enter houses and steal souls.

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Myths of Samhain

One of the most popular Samhain stories told during the festival was of “The Second Battle of Mag Tuired,” which portrays the final conflict between the Celtic pantheon known as the Tuatha de Danann and evil oppressors known as the Fomor. The myths state that the battle unfolded over the period of Samhain.

One of the most famous Samhain-related stories is “The Adventures of Nera,” in which the hero Nera encounters a corpse and fairies and enters into the Otherworld.

Samhain figured into the adventures of mythological Celtic hero Fionn mac Cumhaill when he faced the fire-breathing underworld dweller Aillen, who would burn down the Hall of Tara every Samhain.

Samhain also figures into another Fionn mac Cumhaill legend, where the hero is sent to the Land Beneath the Wave. As well as taking place on Samhain, it features descriptions of the hero’s holiday gatherings.

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Samhain in the Middle Ages

As the Middle Ages progressed, so did the celebrations of the fire festivals. Bonfires known as Samghnagans, which were more personal Samhain fires nearer the farms, became a tradition, purportedly to protect families from fairies and witches.

Carved turnips called Jack-o-lanterns began to appear, attached by strings to sticks and embedded with coal. Later Irish tradition switched to pumpkins.

In Wales, men tossed burning wood at each other in violent games and set off fireworks. In Northern England, men paraded with noisemakers.

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Samhain Merges With Halloween

Neither new holiday did away with the pagan aspects of the celebration. October 31 became known as All Hallows Eve, or Halloween, and contained much of the traditional pagan practices before being adopted in 19th-century America through Irish immigrants bringing their traditions across the ocean.

Trick-or-treating is said to have been derived from ancient Irish and Scottish practices in the nights leading up to Samhain. In Ireland, mumming was the practice of putting on costumes, going door-to-door and singing songs to the dead. Cakes were given as payment.

Halloween pranks also have a tradition in Samhain, though in the ancient celebration, tricks were typically blamed on fairies.


Note: the images above were created by me ©2022 S.C. Hickman using Midjourney ai which has licensed me for personal and professional use.

Dr. Sao’s Curiosity Cabinet and the Occulture of Anareta

“Dr. Sao’s Curiosity Cabinet is known far and wide for its strange and wondrous miniatures of the Dragonii Culture and their secret lives…”

—Temeii Ka, From the Lives of the Insane and Famous

Years before Dr. Sao had been the emperor’s private physician and was privy to many of the various outlying provinces where he collected the occulture and arcane artifacts on insane peasants and dark sorcerers who tradecraft in forbidden archaeology were well known. Of course, he would himself use various minions to do his bidding in these travels who would in their daemonic way coerce even the most reluctant purveyor in rare treasures to part from their wares for a fraction of the cost they were worth.

Dr. Sao had been a high priest of the Necrosil Combine at one time and had learned dark magicks that even the peasant shamans were ill-advised against interfering with or challenging. So he was able to collect some of the planet’s most valuable lore and artifacts for his own private collections which he would later begin selling off in his prestigious Curiosity Shop.

We have a few portraits and snapshots of Dr. Sao and his artifacts.
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As I begin exploring details of various story threads in my ongoing project, along with the visual experimentation in portrait as well as the exploration of the old art of miniature worlds under glass I created this tale to surround it with of Dr. Sao and his Curiosity Cabinet.

I’ve recently been experimenting with a new image generation tool that produces quite advance artistic images that have allowed me in old age to once again open my visual proclivities toward unexpected possibilities. Midjourney ai combines both state of the art image processing with the introduction of artificial intelligence that takes input from a creative artist. The artist has various interfaces and tools she can use to develop an extensive set of codes for the development of any style she sets her mind too. One has also as an unlimited subscriber the full rights over one’s images for both personal and commercial use. I choose to develop a vast epic tale both fantastic and dark surreal that combines the best of weird, uncanny, grotesque, and macabre tales in an ongoing project that combines both image and writing. Hopefully it will take book for at some point. But for now, I will share tidbits from my own unique mythos of Anareta combining ancient Gnostic and Horror in a giant fantasy realm of the planet Anareta – the prison world of human and dragon alike.  

I created the images above for this tale which has lived in me for years. I’m not finished with the tale nor the exploration of the strange planet of Anareta. But will add new images and tales as time goes on. I’ll finish this tale at some point but begin here as always in the midst… 

I pay homage to Clark Ashton Smith whose tales have infested my mind to the point of invisibility in my thought and mind. Early on I began reading him, Lovecraft, Poe, Howard, and so many others in the fantastic traditions that grew out of the horror, gothic, and decadent movements of the Nineteenth century as a counter to the naive realism of the mainstream Bourjoises culture and civilization of work ethic, capitalism, and war. Smith was not as well-known as the others in Lovecraft tradition at the time, but has sense begun attracting a great many fans and connoisseurs of these weird tales and poems.  

I hope you enjoy my new project, art, and writing as I explore these new worlds. 

Gnostics and Decadents

We find delight in the most loathsome things;
Some furtherance of hell each new day brings,
And yet we feel no horror in that rank advance.

—Baudelaire

Gnostics as Decadents

“In his book Gnosticism, Leisegang has this to say about the Alexandrian sects and the general Gnostic attitude to the world: `… Aversion to love and its consequences, justification of a counter-nature which they elevate to the level of nature, elimination of effort, a feeling that only one person in a thousand can understand them, megalomania, asocial behaviour, traits characteristic of decadence.’ On re-reading this sentence, I become aware of a patently obvious fact which until today had nevertheless totally escaped me: I myself am a decadent.”

—Jacques Lacarrière, The Gnostics

Of course, any cursory reading of the Nineteenth Century decadents from Baudelaire to Wilde and beyond will understand this as implicit in the counter-aesthetic of decadence. Lacarrière almost seems surprised to discover this in himself. He’ll go on to add: “Apart from megalomania-for I do not believe I have succumbed to this temptation-I lay claim to all the attitudes indicated in this text. I do not know whether they have quite the same meaning and the same implications today as they had formerly, but I cannot help feeling a sense of familiarity, of solidarity even, with the tendencies quoted above and all that they imply in life. If decadence really consists in posing to one’s contemporaries the crucial questions that the Gnostics asked, if it means seeing all systems, laws, and institutions as products of an alienating mechanism, if ultimately it implies an attitude of doubt, rejection, and insubordination towards organized authority, then long live decadence! Far, far from being an outcome of surrender or resignation in the face of the inevitable, it appears on the contrary as an intellectual lucidity, a searching inquiry that will leave no stone unturned, and an ambition -arrogant, no doubt-to question all the philosophical or religious solutions that man has hitherto proposed. In a sense, this radicalism and intransigence, together with the shocking behaviour which was their practical, everyday expression, are at the roots of the failure of Gnosticism.”

Before the movement actually got under way in the 1880s the pessimism which the Decadents were to embrace was given an increased measure of respectability by the philosophy of Schopenhauer, which was popularized in France by Théodule Ribot in 1874. Schopenhauer argues that the world contains so much more misfortune than joy that life is fundamentally unhappy, tolerable only because the Will to Live persistently deceives us with unrealistic hopes. The enlightened man, according to Schopenhauer, must replace this deceptive will with an honest Idea, whose contemplation is fundamentally aesthetic. All this seemed to French aesthetes a significant underlining of what Baudelaire had attempted and achieved.1

The English word “decadence”, and its French counterpart décadence, derive from the Latin cadere, to fall. But the kind of fall indicated thereby is a special one, as signified by the verbs to which the nouns are parent: the obsolete decair in Old French and “decay” in English. To decay is to rot, to fall away from a state of health into a gradual ruination which is punctuated, but not begun or ended, by death. (1)

Montesquieu peering into the heart of decadent Rome and its burning under Nero would see that it and all civilizations carried the seeds of their own inevitable destruction, because a secure, rich and comfortable aristocracy was bound to be slowly enervated by addiction to luxury, until the time finally arrived when the barbarians without could no longer be kept at bay. Do we not see this in American society as well? The rich and famous living on their vast estates, cruising in their luxury yachts and lear jets, wearing extravagant designer clothing, traveling to exotic locales, enjoying sex, power, and fame. Are we not living in the most decadent of civilizations even as the masses suffer and go without, slaves to jobs and mores that sponsor no escape and little alleviation from the harsh suffering, pain, and morbidity of life except illegal drugs or the dregs of alcohol.

The true Decadent believes that faith in any kind of progress is misplaced; there is no better world to come, which is still to be made by yet another revolution. He accepts also that salvation is highly unlikely to be found at the personal level; the quest for ideal love cannot succeed because people are not naturally loving and monogamous at all, but fundamentally duplicitous, ever ready to betray those whom they claim to love. Thus, the wholehearted Decadent renounces eutopia, euchronia and euspychia alike, and contents himself with making what adjustment he can to their irrevocable loss. (7)

Decadence is not a happy state, and the Decadent does not bother to seek the trivial goal of contentment, whose price is willful blindness to the true state of the world. Instead, he must become a connoisseur of his own psychic malaise (which mirrors, of course, the malaise of his society). He is the victim of various ills, whose labels become the key terms of Decadent rhetoric: ennui (world-weariness); spleen (an angry subspecies of melancholy); impuissance (powerlessness). (7)

Gripped by these disorders, the Decadent is thoroughly apathetic, but his apathy is not so much a failing as a kind of curse visited upon him by the times in which he must live. If it is to be reckoned as a king of sin – and we must remember that what we would nowadays call “clinical depression” was once reckoned by the Catholic Church to be the sin of accidie – then it is a sin from which conventional morality offers no hope of redemption. If the flame of his ashen spirit is to be reignited, he must have recourse to new and more dangerous sensations: the essentially artificial paradises of the imagination. He is likely to seek such artificial paradises by means of drugs – particularly opium and hashish, but also absinthe and ether – but he remains well aware that the greatest artifice of all is, of course, Art itself. (7-8)

The Decadent is a pessimist, in both historical and personal terms, but he acknowledges that in the comfortable and luxurious artifices of civilization, no matter how hollow they may be, a good deal of pleasure is to be found. He is therefore an unrepentant sensualist, albeit of a peculiarly cynical kind. Such meagre rewards as life has to offer the honest and sensitive man, he thinks, are to be sought by means of a languid hedonism which is contemptuous of arbitrary and tyrannical rules of conduct and scornful of all higher aspirations. (8)


  1. Brian Stableford. The Dedalus Book of Decadence Moral Ruins: Moral Ruins v. 1 (Decadence from Dedalus) (p. 21). SCB Distributors. Kindle Edition.

The Anti-Gnostic Gnosis: Learning to Live in Hell

“I see them on the streets, handing out pamphlets signed The Proletariat of the Stars, but also taking the struggle further, to limits almost inconceivable nowadays (since for them a truly revolutionary combat could be nothing less than total), waging war against the very nature of our presence here on earth.”
—Jacques Lacarrière, The Gnostics

“Injustice governs the universe. All that is made and all that is unmade therein carries the imprint of a corrupt fragility, as if matter were the fruit of an outrage in the womb of nothingness.”
—E. M. Cioran

Lacarrière believed that the real struggle and revolution was total war against reality as conceived by the rulers of this world, and yet like any Platonist cum Gnostic he still believed in some transcendent order and pleroma where his Gnostic forbears saw some hope of exiting this prison of existence. He seemed to reject all political and ideological change as superficial at best and only a move in the right direction: “Today when we read the catalogue of the various forms of human exploitation and alienation, as presented in the most politically committed publications, one fact immediately becomes apparent: such are the limitations of ideology (the new mythology of our age) that this necessary denunciation, this indispensable catalogue of human injustice is solely concerned with its social and political aspects. In spite of what half a century of socialist experimentation has shown us, we persist in believing that a change limited exclusively to the politico-economic domain and to the means of production can resolve the problems that confront us.”

His skewed vision of earthly change was tied to his ongoing investment in radical change in consciousness: “Modifying the means of production, transforming the nature of economic exchanges and the distribution of wealth, without tying these changes in with an asceticism operating conjointly on man’s mental structures, could achieve nothing more in their eyes than changing one master for another, and therefore one alienating factor for another, all the more dangerous in that people would believe they had abolished the causes of alienation.”

But the truth is we are not Gnostics, we are bound to earth and its environs, there is no escape hatch and the only viable need is to revolutionize as best we can the world in which we actually live by seeking some form of order that can include within it the truth of our predicament along with the knowledge and means that realizes most humans are prone to error, violence, and stupidity. There will never be some blissful utopia on this planet of death, only continuous vigilance against the organic and ontological proclivities of self-destructive energies that arise with every new generation. We either face the fact that we are animals, desiring machines that will always produce evil by the fact that we live, breath, and exist. Not some moral evil, but the very truth of our organic necessity of feeding on life to survive and propagate our species. So, we either commit species wide suicide, or we learn to compromise and live together knowing we are at root killers.

Our world is an organic hell, there being no metaphysical one but rather the very real and literal one of cannibalistic organicism that is the evolutionary process. One can study the ancient worlds of the various creatures that have come and gone on this planet and see that for the most part life was a struggle to survive in a hostile environment where most of the creatures of land and sea were predatory monsters from era to era. Humans have been on the planet for less than five million years, a short term in the full extent of organic life that has come and gone. Sadly, we turn a blind eye to the truth of it and live like blind fools in a world we did not make and know even less.

Mostly I write this for myself, knowing that most humans could care less about the world as it is. So be it. Most will think I’m just one more crank, crackpot on a bandwagon spouting his anathemas. So be it. I no longer care. Why? Because I know we’re doomed to species extinction. I do not know when, I’m no seer of the future. But I do know that we will continue to compromise the planet to the point that it will have its own sweet revenge: impersonal and uncompromising. That’s the way of the universe: an impersonal and uncompromising indifference to our being or unbeing. It doesn’t care one way or another because it isn’t conscious or aware of us, and yet it set up a way of existence that has certain rules and guidelines that if compromised spell doom to those who think they can exist outside its laws. Many believe humanity as a species has already set loose destructive forces shaping our planetary ecology to the point that there is no chance of compromise, and that in some near or distant future our planet will become a wasteland and unsupportable for human co-existence. Worse than a nuclear holocaust the changes coming will not last for a few generations but will last for thousands of years into a toxic future without end. Sadly, our age of plenty is over, our golden age is turning to dust even now even if we turn a blind eye to what is coming. It will come.

As Jacques Lacarrière will put it,

So, to have done with this problem and give an exact definition of Gnostic thought – as I understand it, at least – all institutions, laws, religions, churches and powers are nothing but a sham and a trap, he perpetuation of an age-old deception. Let us sum up: we are exploited on a cosmic scale, we are the proletariat of the demiurge-executioner, slaves exiled into a world that is viscerally subjected to violence; we are the dregs and sediment of a lost heaven, strangers on our own planet.

Yet, unlike Lacarrière, and even though I accept the notion that our world, our universe is bound to a creative-destructive force, it is not a personal force for good or ill, it is not evil in itself; it just is, without precedent, without compromise a force that is both impersonal and beyond human conception to know or understand. As the sciences have reiterated for a hundred years, we are in the midst of a universe we barely comprehend, one that is both wild and outside our capacity to reduce to any semblance of unity. A cosmos at once wild and free, and yet ultimately bound to the entropic laws of physics and dissolution, decay, and destruction.

We are not exiles, strangers who fell out of some Platonic pleroma or heaven, we are indigenous and autochthonous creatures of this realm who by a veritable mistake of evolution evolved consciousness, an awareness of our predicament as thinking animals. We alone have invented the very delusions and illusions of heaven and hell, populated the wild mythologies of the world with gods and demons, monsters and evil. We, not some vein demiurgic blind god is responsible for the fantastic worlds of personal religions that have wrought for millennia war and death and judgment upon the earth. And we alone invented the current political, secular, and economic powers of capitalist and socialist war machines that are destroying the last vestiges of life on this planet.

The Daemon’s Impersonalism in Goethe’s Faust

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Goethe’s sense of evil as an impersonal force in the natural in his Faust:

“He thought he could detect in nature—both animate and inanimate, with soul or without soul—something which manifests itself only in contradictions, and which, therefore, could not be comprehended under any idea, still less under one word, It was not godlike, for it seemed unreasonable; not human, for it had no understanding; nor devilish, for it was beneficent; nor angelic, for it often betrayed a malicious pleasure. It resembled chance, for it evolved no consequences; it was like Providence, for it hinted at connection. All that limits us it seemed to penetrate; it seemed to sport at will with the necessary elements of our existence; it contracted time and expanded space. To this principle… I gave the name of Daemonic … (Goethe, p. 321)

During the Romantic period the wavering between natural and supernatural would enter that realm caught up in-between as the fantastic which sought to convey the contradistinctions and anomalous unknown without reducing it back into either religious (marvelous-transcendent) or secular (uncanny-psychological) forms.

The Romantic Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge would term this impersonal evil the Daemon: the “transnatural”—a predilection that in turn instills in him “the apprehension of being feared and shrunk from as a something transnatural” (CN III 4166; my emphasis). The transnatural and the daemonic involve each other here; the transnatural carries the promise and the risk of hidden orders of insight, being, and knowledge— proscribed by contingent social and religious mores—and the daemon is the image of a mind fascinated with the transnatural. Coleridge describes their fusion in the imaginative act as a moment of self-election, in which “shame & power” coincide, and he becomes “Δαιμων” (CN III 4166): a Daemon.

While Coleridge uses the Greek “Δαιμων,” his meaning is not comprised by the Hellenic literature. Empedocles comes closest: for him the daemon was “the carrier of man’s potential divinity and actual guilt” (Dodds 153). For Empedocles, however, the daemon was an indestructible migrant spirit, part of a specific religious philosophy of reincarnation. Consequently, the daemonic implied a supervening force, external to the will: Dodds suggests that in its original usage, the Greek daemŏnios meant “acting at the monition of a daemon” (Dodds 12–13). Coleridge does at times conceive the daemonic as “Powers ab extra,” and worries that “Dæmonology” would encourage a “Polytheism,” where any number of “things” outside the self are treated as independent sources of “divine Law” (CN III 4396). In the more personal notebook entry I refer to, however, Coleridge’s “Δαιμων” inverts the classical assumption: instead of being acted upon by external agency, Coleridge becomes the Daemon by a willing transition.1

The term daemonic—often substantivized in German as the daemonic (das Dämonische) since its use by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the early 19th century—is a literary topos associated with divine inspiration and the idea of genius, with the nexus between character and fate and, in more orthodox Christian manifestations, with moral transgression and evil. Although strictly modern literary uses of the term have become prominent only since Goethe, its origins lie in the classical idea of the δαíμων, transliterated into English as daimon or daemon, as an intermediary between the earthly and the divine. This notion can be found in pre-Socratic thinkers such as Empedocles and Heraclitus, in Plato, and in various Stoic and Neo-Platonic sources. One influential aspect of Plato’s presentation of the daemonic is found in Socrates’s daimonion: a divine sign, voice, or hint that dissuades Socrates from taking certain actions at crucial moments in his life. Another is the notion that every soul contains an element of divinity—known as its daimon—that leads it toward heavenly truth. Already in Roman thought, this idea of an external voice or sign begins to be associated with an internal genius that belongs to the individual.2

In Christian thinking of the European romantic period, the daemonic in general and the Socratic daimonion in particular are associated with notions such as non-rational divine inspiration (for example, in Johann Georg Hamann and Johann Gottfried Herder) and with divine providence (for example, in Joseph Priestley). At the same time, the daemonic is also often interpreted as evil or Satanic—that is: as demonic—by European authors writing in a Christian context. In Russia in particular, during a period spanning from the mid-19th century until the early 20th century, there is a rich vein of novels, including works by Gogol and Dostoevsky, that deal with this more strictly Christian sense of the demonic, especially the notion that the author/narrator may be a heretical figure who supplants the primacy of God’s creation. But the main focus is of a more richly ambivalent notion of the daemonic, which explicitly combines both the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian heritages of the term. This topos is most prominently mobilized by two literary exponents during the 19th century: Goethe, especially in his autobiography Dichtung und Wahrheit (Poetry and Truth), and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in his Notebooks and in the Lectures on the History of Philosophy. Both Goethe’s and Coleridge’s treatments of the term, alongside its classical and Judeo-Christian heritages, exerted an influence upon literary theory of the 20th century, leading important theorists such as Georg Lukács, Walter Benjamin, Hans Blumenberg, Angus Fletcher, and Harold Bloom to associate the daemonic with questions concerning the novel, myth, irony, allegory, and literary influence.

“The idea of the daemonic,” wrote Walter Benjamin, “accompanies Goethe’s vision all his life.” For Plato, the daemonic is a sensibility that brings individuals into contact with divine knowledge. Socrates also relied upon a “divine voice” known as his “daimonion,” which inspired him in situations where his rational methods had reached an impasse, thereby showing the limitations of reason itself. Goethe was introduced to this ancient concept of the daemon by Hamann and Herder, who associated nonrational, daemonic inspiration with an aesthetic category of central importance to early German Romanticism: that of “Genius.” Goethe initially depicted the idea of daemonic genius in works of the Storm and Stress period. Reading Goethe’s works on the daemonic through theorists such as Lukács, Benjamin, Gadamer, Adorno, and Blumenberg, Nicholls contends that they contain philosophical arguments concerning reason, nature, and subjectivity that are central to both European Romanticism and the Enlightenment.3

As the Brothers Grimm in their Marchen studies show, das Dämonische in the Germanic tradition represents something like a fusion of the English words daemonic and demonic. On the one hand, it harbors the sense of a supernatural force that relates to artistic inspiration or genius, and that also encompasses something like an indwelling destiny or fate. On the other hand, however, the term carries with it a sense of anxiety, malignancy, or evil, particularly when used in theological contexts. The prime example of this latter tendency is Søren Kierkegaard’s definition of the daemonic in Begrebet Angest (The Concept of Anxiety, 1844) as both “anxiety about the good” and an “unfree relation to the good” that is associated with sin.45 Kierkegaard’s interpretation exerted some influence upon later theological and philosophical discussions of the term in Germany, most notably those by Paul Tillich. (Nicholls, 27)

When one searches for examples of the daemonic in Western thought, the results will inevitably depend upon what sense of the term one seeks to find, and just as one of the major themes of the daemonic is the indeterminacy of non-rational or numinous experience, so too is the term itself to some degree indeterminate in its field of reference. At the beginning of his book on the subject of the daemonic in Hölderlin, Kleist, and Nietzsche, Der Kampf mit dem Dämon (Struggle with the Daemon, 1928), Stefan Zweig makes the following observation on the impossibility of exhaustively and objectively defining the term:

“Daemonic” — this word has had so many connotations imposed upon it, has been so variously interpreted, in the course of its wanderings from the days of ancient religious mythology into our own time, that I must explain the sense in which I shall use it in this book. I term “daemonic” the unrest that is in us all, driving each of us out of himself into the elemental. It seems as if nature had implanted into every mind an inalienable part of the primordial chaos, and as if this part were interminably striving — with tense passion — to rejoin the superhuman, suprasensual medium whence it derives. The daemon is the incorporation of that tormenting leaven which impels our being (otherwise quiet and almost inert) towards danger, immoderation, ecstasy, renunciation, and even self-destruction. But in those of common clay, this factor of our composition which is both precious and perilous proves comparatively ineffective, is speedily absorbed and consumed. In such persons only at rare moments, during the crises of puberty or when, through love or the generative impulse, the inward cosmos is heated to boiling point, does the longing to escape from the familiar groove, to renounce the trite and the commonplace, exert its mysterious sway.4

The daemon is not a friendly and helpful power unless we can hold him in leash, can use him to promote a wholesome tension and to assist us on our upward path. He becomes a menace when the tension he fosters is excessive, and when the mind is a prey to the rebellious and volcanically eruptive urge of the daemonic. For the daemon cannot make his way back to the infinite which is his home except by ruthlessly destroying the finite and the earthly which restrains him, by destroying the body wherein, for a season, he is housed. He works, as with a lever, to promote expansion, but threatens in so doing to shatter the tenement. That is why those of an exceptionally “daemonic temperament,” those who cannot early and thoroughly subdue the daemon within them, are racked by disquietude. Ever and again the daemon snatches the helm from their control and steers them (helpless as straws in the blast) into the heart of the storm, perchance to shatter them on the rocks of destiny. Restlessness of the blood, the nerves, the mind, is always the herald of the daemonic tempest; and that is why we call daemonic those women who diffuse unrest wherever they go and who open the floodgates to let loose the waters of destruction. The daemonic bodes danger, carries with it an atmosphere of tragedy, breathes doom. (Zweig)


  1. Leadbetter, Gregory. Coleridge and the Daemonic Imagination. Palgrave (2011)
  2. Nicholls, Angus, Daemonic.  Oxford Research Encyclopedia. (23 February 2021)
  3. Nicholls, Angus. Goethe’s Concept of the Daemonic. Camden House (2006)
  4. Zweig, Stefan. The Struggle with the Daemon: Hölderlin, Kleist, Nietzsche (pp. 11-12). Plunkett Lake Press.

The Oral Tradition of Recitation, Fantasy, and Märchen

“I’ll tell you a secret. Old storytellers never die. They disappear into their own story.”

—The Storyteller’s Tale (anon)

Last month I had saved a few of my tokens over some time for audible and finally collected all six volumes of Clark Ashton Smith’s stories and miscellany. Been listening today and will this weekend to the tales from the first volume The End of the Story. There’s a sense of forlornness and deepest anguish in his stories, a sense of doom like listening to those Mahler death symphonies in which the dark drumming and thrumming tolls below the theme and melody. We know that most of his tales were done from 1930 – 34 and then he just stopped writing them. All three of these writers seemed to fade out by the mid-thirties: Lovecraft dead, Howard dead, and Smith living on but dead to writing. They all contributed to a flow of dark weird tales, each in his own distinct style, and each leaving impressions and expressions of those voids of infinite time and space surrounding us in a sea of nihil.

What I love about listening to tales more than reading them is it’s like entering the age when fireside tales of those ancient oral masters of voicing still held sway over thousands of years. Listening to the various renditions and recitations of the tales in this volume by several different voice actors is a grand and powerful. The empowered depth of expression awakens you to the darkness and depth of feeling conveyed through each unique telling. I think back to the ages when oral tales and storytelling was an art form all across the world.

I was rereading the Hoshruba an Urdu collection of tales that were once used extemporaneously as those masters of the oral form spoke and intonated the various characters in those endless tales within tales that seemed to arrive as if told for the first time. This art of tale telling may once again take precedence as such listening audios become more and more available for the short form. There’s something memorable and mesmerizing about listening to a tale rather than the weary reading of words on a page. Reading entails stopping and imagining, while listening the imagination runs wild as the listening opens one’s inner eye rather than being encumbered by the physical eyes need to scan. One imagines blind Homer reciting his epics in this way and those in his audience closing their eyes are watching the fire and embers burn while listening to the various portions of the Iliad and Odyssey.

The opening of the mind to the desires of imagination and voice awakens a sense of those expressive powers and dispositions that bring us back to the elder times when the Bards, Skalds, Minnesingers, and Trouvère among so many other non-European traditions for which I do not have names brought forward men and women whose memories collected and passed on the traditions and tales of their ancestors. Only later was the notion of invention and fancy introduced when tales were made whole cloth out of these traditions, embellished and formalized for the eras in which the teller lived clothed in the teller’s social world with the ardor of mastery and finesse. Maybe such things will once again take hold. One can only wish.

The Posthuman Fantastic and the Real

“A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”
― Franz Kafka

“We have no need of other worlds. We need mirrors. We don’t know what to do with other worlds. A single world, our own, suffices us; but we can’t accept it for what it is.”
― Stanisław Lem

One aspect of the fantastic, the main thrust of Rosemary Jackson’s critical project is what she terms the ‘subversive function of the fantastic’:

“Although nearly all literary fantasies eventually recover desire, neutralizing their own impulses towards transgression, some move towards the extreme position which will be found in Sade’s writings, and attempt to remain ‘open’, dissatisfied, endlessly desiring. Those texts which attempt that movement and that transgressive function have been given most space in this book, for in them the fantastic is at its most uncompromising in its interrogation of the ‘nature’ of the ‘real’.”1

Instead of dwelling on the fantasy of such practitioners as Kingsley, Lewis, Tolkien, Le Guin or Richard Adams who are more central to romance or faery traditions proper with their moral and religious convictions and connotations, allegories, and didactic themes. Instead, she will concentrate on the works of Mary Shelley, James Hogg, Edgar Allan Poe, R.L. Stevenson and Kafka along with George Eliot, Joseph Conrad and Henry James, as well as ‘fantastic realists’ such as Dickens and Dostoevsky. Each of these authors will subvert the romantic cosmos with a counterstrategy that undermines the moral and religious heritage of the realms of faery and return them to their pagan past and worldview. One that is anti-social and sadean, more brutal and ruinous of our quaint Christian worlds and full of a darker view of existence both a-moral and free of the moral taint of religious vision.

As a critical term, ‘fantasy’ has been applied rather indiscriminately to any literature which does not give priority to realistic representation: myths, legends, folk and fairy tales, utopian allegories, dream visions, surrealist texts, science fiction, horror stories, all presenting realms ‘other’ than the human. A characteristic most frequently associated with literary fantasy has been its obdurate refusal of prevailing definitions of the ‘real’ or ‘ possible’, a refusal amounting at times to violent opposition. ‘A fantasy is a story based on and controlled by an overt violation of what is generally accepted as possibility; it is the narrative result of transforming the condition contrary to fact into “fact” itself’ (Irwin, p. x). Such violation of dominant assumptions threatens to subvert (overturn, upset, undermine) rules and conventions taken to be normative. This is not in itself a socially subversive activity: it would be naive to equate fantasy with either anarchic or revolutionary politics. It does, however, disturb ‘rules’ of artistic representation and literature’s reproduction of the ‘real’. (p. eight)

Modern fantasists tend to toward a mode hostility to static, discrete units, to its juxtaposition of incompatible elements and its resistance to fixity. Spatial, temporal, and philosophical ordering systems all dissolve; unified notions of character are broken; language and syntax become incoherent. Through its ‘misrule’, it permits ‘ultimate questions’ about social order, or metaphysical riddles as to life’s purpose. Unable to give affirmation to a closed, unified, or omniscient vision, the menippean fantasist violates social propriety. It tells of descents into underworlds of brothels, prisons, orgies, graves: it has no fear of the criminal, erotic, mad, or dead. Against the prevailing Order or norm the menippean fantasist seeks to explode the very foundations of this world based as it is on some transcendent order projected onto society with all the legalistic and moral dogma of a tyrant. Chaotic and bound to freedom it seeks to undermine every aspect of the social paradigm and open its readers to a vision of desire unbound and wild. Grotesque dissolution, a promiscuity is at the heart of the modern fantastic. Rather than escapist the modern fantastic is expressive mode that causes its readers to awaken from their stupor and sleep in the social worlds that have come to regard as all too real. As Dostoevsky would say of the expressive fantastic: “But now you know that if there is no soil and if there is no action possible, the striving spirit will precisely express itself in abnormal and irregular manifestations—it will mistake the phrase for life, it will pounce upon the ready but alien formula, it will be only too glad to have it, and will substitute it for reality! In a fantastic life all functions, too, are fantastic.”

In our age fantasy has a different function. It does not invent supernatural regions, but presents a natural world inverted into something strange, something ‘other’. It becomes ‘undomesticated’, unhumanized, turning from transcendental explorations to transcriptions of a posthuman condition. But against the earlier modernist fantastic a new form of posthumanism is arising that even subverts the foundations of this humanist domestication and frees us from the “all too human” dogmas of the human condition and its humanistic concerns. Instead, we seek a new vision of what it means to be something no longer bound to the last two thousand years of human discourse and the Anthropocene era which has fractured humanity into enclaves of warring factions and chaotic realms of political and social unrest. The fantastic no longer looks to some beyond, some transcendent order or foundation to support its myths of the human. Now begins the subversion of the human toward the unbounded worlds of futural unknowns. Open and unrestricted by the dogmas of the past the new breed of fantasists seeks the truly new, the unbidden.

The Autonomous Mind: The Externalization of the Posthuman

Merlin Donald in his Origins of the Modern Mind hypothesized that the modern human mind evolved from the primate mind through a series of major adaptations, each of which led to the emergence of a new representational system. Each successive new representational system has remained intact within our current mental architecture, that the modern mind is a mosaic structure of cognitive vestiges from earlier stages of human emergence.2

As he will emphasize humans did not simply evolve a larger brain, an expanded memory, a lexicon, or a special speech apparatus; we evolved new systems for representing reality. During this process, our representational apparatus somehow perceived the utility of symbols and invented them from whole cloth; no symbolic environment preceded them. (Donald, p. 3) For Donald the first transition was to a `mimetic” culture: the era of Homo erectus in which mankind absorbed and refashioned events to create rituals, crafts, rhythms, dance, and other prelinguistic traditions. This was followed by the evolution to mythic cultures: the result of the acquisition of speech and the invention of symbols. The third transition carried oral speech to reading, writing, and an extended external memory- store seen today in computer technology.

We carry remnants and vestiges of these previous stages in our brain, and yet with each transition the very make up of our brain and our external adaptations produced changes that are irreversible. That very recent changes in the organization of the human mind are just as fundamental as those that took place in earlier evolutionary transitions, yet they are mediated by new memory technology, rather than by genetically encoded changes in the brain. The effects of such technological changes are similar in kind to earlier biological changes, inasmuch as they can produce alterations to the architecture of human memory. The modern mind is thus a hybrid structure containing vestiges of earlier stages of human emergence, as well as new symbolic devices that have radically altered its organization. The structural relationship between individual human minds and external memory technology continues to change. (Donald, p. 4)

As we’ve off-loaded memory, externalized many of the brain’s thought processes into technical systems, and allowed our own cognitive powers to dissipate and go into abeyance we’ve become more and more dependent on these technical assemblages we interface with on a daily basis to think for us. The price we as humans are paying has yet to be appraised. Yet, it is this symbiotic relation to these external devices that is reorganizing both our mental and social landscapes beyond recognition. For all intents and purposes, we are no longer natural beings, we’ve become fully artificial creatures in a vast series of technical assemblages. Do these systems serve us, or we them? Is there a difference? If as Hayles suggests these nonconscious systems think without awareness of thinking what does that entail? If we are modeling thinking machines on the very processes of the cognitive capacities of the brain’s functions where will this lead?

If one thinks of it as a slow process of dis-connection from our ground – from the planetary environment within which we have emerged – then these various stages in the evolution of mind across time and their respective representational systems that have produced gaps, cracks, and tears in the reality within which we’ve all been embedded, and that have reorganized the brain and our views of reality as the outgrowth of such accumulated efforts then what is next on the horizon? This symbiosis between mind and technics, the grafting and externalization of memory, thought, and capacity into the very external systems of intelligence modeled on human mental functions is producing something new and as yet not fully understood.

As N. Katherine Hayles a humanist and advocate for the humanities in a time when such a world is falling away into abeyance tells us that “biological organisms evolved consciousness to make this kind of quantum leap from individual instances to high-level abstractions; core and higher consciousness in turn ultimately enabled humans to build sophisticated communication networks and informational structures such as the web. In large-scale historical perspective, automated cognizers are one result of evolved human consciousness. It is likely, however, that the evolutionary development of technical cognizers will take a different path from that of Homo sapiens. Their trajectory will not run through consciousness but rather through more intensive and pervasive interconnections with other nonconscious cognizers. In a sense, they do not require consciousness for their operations, because they are already in recursive loops with human consciousness. Just as from our point of view they are part of our extended cognitive systems (Clark 2008), so we may, in a moment of Dawkins-like fancy, suppose that if technical systems had selves (which they do not), they might see humans are part of their extended cognitive systems. In any case, it is now apparent that humans and technical systems are engaged in complex symbiotic relationships, in which each symbiont brings characteristic advantages and limitations to the relationship. The more such symbiosis advances, the more difficult it will be for either symbiont to flourish without the other.” (Hayles, pp. 215-216) 3

As the postmodern fantasist Stanislaw Lem once suggested:

“We take off into the cosmos, ready for anything: for solitude, for hardship, for exhaustion, death. Modesty forbids us to say so, but there are times when we think pretty well of ourselves. And yet, if we examine it more closely, our enthusiasm turns out to be all a sham. We don’t want to conquer the cosmos, we simply want to extend the boundaries of Earth to the frontiers of the cosmos. For us, such and such a planet is as arid as the Sahara, another as frozen as the North Pole, yet another as lush as the Amazon basin. We are humanitarian and chivalrous; we don’t want to enslave other races, we simply want to bequeath them our values and take over their heritage in exchange. We think of ourselves as the Knights of the Holy Contact. This is another lie. We are only seeking Man. We have no need of other worlds. A single world, our own, suffices us; but we can’t accept it for what it is. We are searching for an ideal image of our own world: we go in quest of a planet, a civilization superior to our own but developed on the basis of a prototype of our primeval past. At the same time, there is something inside us which we don’t like to face up to, from which we try to protect ourselves, but which nevertheless remains, since we don’t leave Earth in a state of primal innocence. We arrive here as we are in reality, and when the page is turned and that reality is revealed to us – that part of our reality which we would prefer to pass over in silence – then we don’t like it anymore.” (Solaris)

Coda

Years ago, reading Merlin Donald’s Origins of the Human Mind, where he describes a three-stage externalization process of memory involving technics and technology one came across much of the same territory. During the first stage, Merlin reports, our bipedal but still apelike ancestors acquired “mimetic” skill – the ability to represent knowledge through voluntary motor acts – which made Homo erectus successful for over a million years. The second transition – to “mythic” culture – coincided with the development of spoken language. This cognitive advance allowed the large-brained Homo sapiens to evolve a complex preliterate culture that survives in many parts of the world today. In the third transition, when humans constructed elaborate symbolic systems ranging from cuneiforms, hieroglyphics, and ideograms to alphabetic languages and mathematics, human biological memory became an inadequate vehicle for storing and processing our collective knowledge. The modern mind is thus a hybrid structure built from vestiges of earlier biological stages as well as new external symbolic memory devices that have radically altered its organization. He would add a fourth turn which is the externalization of our mind in machinic systems or computer systems which is ongoing now. Being too new he only surmised how this externalization process would in turn reweave the human into new hybridity. He sees the vast collective enterprise of the web and its externalization of the human knowledge base as producing something new and outside the up to now solipsistic systems of creativity and creation. It is a self-reflective mirror of the human world that is also becoming hybridized and without us in a new form of thinking and being which remains to be known and seen as us and it.

Andrew C. Wenaus rather than see this externalization process as natural outcome of evolutionary processes seems to fear these consequences:

“Each literary work that I analyze in this book is either written about algorithmic culture’s effects on the human nervous system, composed using computers and algorithms, or both. Some texts appear in print, while others are composed entirely with computers and are accessible only with a computer. In each case, these texts simultaneously protest against and praise the threshold that separates human autonomy from self-optimizing, autonomous technologies, and hold that the instance of exiting into the logic of combinatorial, algorithmic culture is an entry into an inhuman future where humans are excluded from their own autonomous, poietic self-narration. At this junction, I ask what it means when a dramatic shift away from language (as the governing medium of culture and value) is rapidly being replaced by digital code and autonomous self-optimizing processes.” (ibid.)

It’s true that our humanistic notions of the ‘human’ are going away, being replaced again by the naturalistic vision which is part of the evolutionary process that has been ongoing for millions of years. But this is only to say that the religious and humanistic falsifications of our evolutionary heritage are now being done away with and excluded. Against Andrew’s qualms I see this as welcome news rather than something to fear. Technology is not autonomous in the sense of separate from us, no – the truth is we are technology in process, transitional objects on the road to the posthuman merger of a more refined externalization process that is both natural and inevitable.

The myth goes something like this: humans in the beginning were thrown into the world naked and alone, without any essential nature or origins transcending their arising. The Greeks in their own codification of this story as a first stab at theo-anthropological bric-a-brac invented the story of Zeus, Prometheus, and his brother Epimetheus to order this blind process of those first humans caught up in a world not of their own making and more profoundly not of their own knowledge and choosing.

According to the Greeks Zeus created all animals as species as beings without an essence and left the job of distributing the powers of mobility, intelligence, and strength to Prometheus. This is where things went awry in that Prometheus had a brother, Epimetheus, who persuaded him to take up the task of distributing the various gifts to all the animal species on planet earth. After having done this, it was discovered by Prometheus that every last animal on earth had been given a gift but those pesky humans. Epimetheus in his haste to please his brother had forgotten all about humanity and had left it without any form or capacity to survive on its own in the harsh and bitter world. Humans lacked anything within to help them survive on their own so that Prometheus feeling sorry for this wretched creature stole fire from the gods and distributed it as a supplement to this otherwise empty and naked creature.

It is this original gift of the supplement, the external origin of our relation to technology and technics that situates us in that zone of anticipating the future, of predicting the obstacles, antagonisms, and unknown and unanticipated consequences of our technological inventions that have shaped not only our sociality but the very fabric of our minds and bodies as humans. It is this relation to tools that made us human, these supplements that have shaped our memory, reflections, and socio-cultural transmission into the future. Yet, it is this very relation to technology that has bound us to the two-edged sword of toxicity and therapeutic power. Because we lack any essential nature, we are unbound from any stable relation to ourselves or our neighbors, and all the conflicts, wars, antagonisms that have arisen between groups, nations, etc. have arisen because of this lack of at the heart of the human.

And, yet it is this very theft of technology from the gods that has shaped and formed humans from the beginning, our fate and our catastrophe. It is this theft of technology that lies at the core of the human condition; in spite of our self-sufficiency, our lack of an essential nature, we as humans are bound to our supplements, our tools, our technological wonders. And it is this original relation to technology that has shaped us into the very antagonistic world we see around us. The very hubris of our need for supplements binds us to a world where the making and re-making of ourselves and the world around us condemns us to a never-ending war of perpetual re-creation of the very means of our existence.

It is this perpetual battle between foresight and forgetfulness that is both the glory and shame of the human species. Both our ability to anticipate catastrophe and our wisdom that comes in such confidence in technology produces after-the-fact or in the last instance that shapes our societies and political meanderings. This very antagonism at the core of the human and its relations to its world as shaped by the very technological supplements that have given it its ongoing projects has served us well up till now. But now we live in a world whose consequences of this fatal relationship have brought us to the point of stupidity. Our original relation to technology and technics has reversed itself, and the very technologies that served to shape both ourselves and the earth around us are in our time taking on an autonomous relation to the detriment of the human itself. Technology no longer needs us; we are becoming expendable to this relation that has for thousands of years given humanity power over life and the external environment.

As technology becomes intelligent and autonomous it will take on the capacities and powers that have up till now been under the control and direction of human ingenuity and lack. This very tendency of technology to escape the control and guidance of the human has been ongoing for hundreds of years. This is nothing new, what is new is our ability as humans to reflect on this state of affairs which we did not anticipate and may not be able to contravene. Much of scientific and philosophical thought in our time has uncovered this dire truth and is slowly reflecting on the catastrophic consequences of this state of affairs.

We seem to be at a point of convergence/divergence in which technology wants to be free of us, and yet we want to merge with it and be free of the ‘human condition’. This seeming contradiction plays out in our various discourses surrounding the posthuman condition and its political ramifications in capitalist regimes surrounding transhumanism which seeks by way of biopolitics to gain mastery and control over our genetic and biotechnological future. We’ve come a long way from the days of medieval magicians and their grimoires which held the magical insights into the invisible realm of demons and angels. We now have the vast laboratory of the universe itself from the darkest corners of the quantum matrix to the largest galactic clusters and the strange dark energies and imperceptible reaches of dark vitalistic matter-energy.

Those writers of horror, weird, and strange seek in this dark tome of linguistic nightmares to unleash the noumenal strain that Kant so carefully cut off from philosophical or scientific exploration as incompatible with human reason and its limits. But in our age that notion of Reason has come under scrutiny and been found wanting, and new forms of reasoning and thought are emerging in the speculative regions on the edge of the human. While transhumanists dream of incorporating humanity into the machinic phylum as the engine driving some immortalist vision, stripping us of our organic life-forms for some inorganic machinic substratum that can move optimistically into this new world. And humanists of all stripes see this as not only evil but the very end game of humanity that must be stopped dead in its tracks, buffered by some political, social, and religio-atheistic ethical system of beliefs, codes, and law. There are those in neither camp that wonder at it all, pondering the strangeness that is before us and behind us, not willing to supervene nor with open arms embrace the inevitability of such an enterprise, only acknowledging that this is indeed what seems to be transpiring in our time. Not something to regret nor optimistically to embrace but to critically appraise, evaluate, study, and discuss as it transpires. Madness or Reason? Or, better yet, both/and… maybe Ligotti’s character is right after all: “There was horror, undoubtedly. But it was a horror uncompromised by any feeling of lost joy or thwarted redemption; rather, it was a deliverance by damnation.”

“The Incarnation of the Word has plunged us into Battle. As long as our word was just word, nothing stood in our way. But with our phraseology, we also created living flesh. And this proved very tempting to the enemies: those who want to kill the Flesh with anti-mystical drugs, cannibalism, carnivorism, and stigmatization. They hear what we say and call it Wortsalat, thereby negating our flesh. They call our language gibberish, raving. But our raving is the beginning of the war, with everything against nothing and nothing against everything.”4 (Note: Wortsalat: i.e., word salad, gibberish, incoherent thought)


  1. Jackson, Dr Rosemary. Fantasy (New Accents) (p. 5). Taylor and Francis.
  2. Donald, Merlin. Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition. Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (March 15, 1993)
  3. Hayles, N. Katherine. Unthought: The Power of the Cognitive Nonconscious (p. 11). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.
  4. Kusters, Wouter. A Philosophy of Madness. MIT Press. (2014)

Robert E. Howard and Hyperborea

“Never on land or by sea will you find the marvelous road to the feast of the Hyperboreans” —Pindar

Reading a shot work by Charles Hoffman published in 1987 Robert E. Howard: A Closer Look which opened up much of the later critical work on this creator of Conan among other pulp world heroes from Bran Mak Morn, the Pictish chieftain who battles the Romans in Britain; Solomon Kane, the 17th-century Puritan who spans the globe in quest of adventure and the righting of wrongs; King Kull of Valusia, a valiant warrior at the dawn of history; and, of course, Conan of Cimmeria, who embodied Howard’s thirst for untrammeled freedom and the virtues of combat.

Dead way too young, shortly after his mother’s demise who he personally cared for in her last days, he wrote some of the more influential characters to roam later fantasy sub-genre worlds that Fritz Lieber would coin as Sword and Sorcery. Even now in the days of Grimdark it is to the work of Howard that all in this genre pay tribute. Romantic, anarchic, intelligent, and resourceful Howard’s world if not born into the mold of existential thought inhabited its proto-fringes early on. Always seeking adventure and a measure of excitement he traveled mentally if not physically into the antediluvian worlds of epic and heroic days of the ancient migratory peoples of Eurasia who would in wave after wave invade the indigenous of ancient Europe. The Basque people are the last of the indigenous peoples of Old Europe and remain our only opening onto those worlds before the various invasions of what would become the Celtic peoples and tribes took over and populated it. Howard would term this period the Hyperborean Age after his friend Clark Ashton Smith and his tales of that period. He’d even write a full essay on its world before plunging into his later Conan series.

I sometimes wonder why I love such fare, since for the most part it is part of a heroic fantasy dream world that probably was a lot more brutish and darker than he imagined. Our ancestors were for the most part superstitious and worshipped dark gods of war and death more than anything else. The healers were of the realm of women, the goddess figures who chart the only humane aspect of that ancient world. Our pagan past was short and brutish with endless wars among neighboring tribes and clans. Strength, bravery, and intelligence won out over brute darkness, but in the end, darkness prevailed everywhere in its cold necessity of survival and propagation of the tribe/clan. There was nothing romantic about it, and the many ballads and songs we have inherited of later ages sing of doom, sorrow, and endless strife. The later Skalds and Bards and lay prose Sagas attest to this world ruled by the dark triune sisters (Norns, Fates, Valkyries…).

Yet, it is out of this dark world that such thinking as Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Freud would attain their dark wisdom and pessimism of Eros and Thanatos – Love and Death. We are still driven by these dark twins in our current world to ends we do not know.

I have a bookshelf of all these old paperbacks with Frazzetta’s art plastered across them edited by L. Sprague de Camp. Now you can listen to all these tales on audible which is great. I have a feeling that if civilization implodes over the coming centuries such worlds will probably devolve into this barbarian and tribal madness once again. Howard is great but the world he portrayed is not the dark world we inhabit which is much less romantic and a lot more demonic than he would have liked to admit.

The Greek Poet Pindar in his tenth ode would say this of the Hyperboreans:

Never the Muse is absent
from their ways: lyres clash
and flutes cry and everywhere
maiden choruses whirling.
Neither disease nor bitter old age
is mixed in their sacred blood;
far from labor and battle they live. See less

Clark Ashton Smith: To The Daemon

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“Bow down, I am the emperor of dreams.”
― Clark Ashton Smith

If Clark Ashton Smith had a muse, it was darkness itself in the form of the inner daemon…

To The Daemon

“Tell me many tales, O benign maleficent daemon, but tell me none that I have ever heard or have even dreamt of otherwise than obscurely or infrequently. Nay, tell me not of anything that lies between the bourns of time or the limits of space: for I am a little weary of all recorded years and charted lands; and the isles that are westward of Cathay, and the sunset realms of Ind, are not remote enough to be made the abiding-place of my conceptions; and Atlantis is over-new for my thoughts to sojourn there, and Mu itself has gazed upon the sun in aeons that are too recent. Tell me many tales, but let them be of things that are past the lore of legend and of which there are no myths in our world or any world adjoining. Tell me, if you will, of the years when the moon was young, with siren-rippled seas and mountains that were zoned with flowers from base to summit; tell me of the planets grey with eld, of the worlds whereon no mortal astronomer has ever looked, and whose mystic heavens and horizons have given pause to visionaries. Tell me of the vaster blossoms within whose cradling chalices a woman could sleep; of the seas of fire that beat on strands of ever-during ice; of perfumes that can give eternal slumber in a breath; of eyeless titans that dwell in Uranus, and beings that wander in the green light of the twin suns of azure and orange. Tell me tales of inconceivable fear and unimaginable love, in orbs whereto our sun is a nameless star, or unto which its rays have never reached.”


  1. Smith, Clark Ashton. The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith: The End Of The Story (p. 2). Night Shade Books.

Folklore, Magic, and King Solomon: The Work of Claude Lecouteux

The Folkloric Traditions of Solomon the King

My fascination with world folklore, fairy tales, and the various legends associated with our ancestors has been ongoing for decades. One of the more scholarly masters of this arcane world of lore is the French scholar, Claude Lecouteux. His works are replete with in-depth knowledge of these darker occulture. One could spend a year just reading through his carefully crafted histories and explorations, which are all fascinating and great sources for fantasists and horror writers alike.

1. Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages
2. Travels to the Otherworld and Other Fantastic Realms: Medieval Journeys into the Beyond
3. The Hidden History of Elves and Dwarfs: Avatars of Invisible Realms
4. The High Magic of Talismans and Amulets: Tradition and Craft
5. Phantom Armies of the Night: The Wild Hunt and the Ghostly Processions of the Undead
6. The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted Houses: From Pagan Folklore to Modern Manifestations
7. The Book of Grimoires: The Secret Grammar of Magic
8. Demons and Spirits of the Land: Ancestral Lore and Practices
10. The Tradition of Household Spirits: Ancestral Lore and Practices
11. The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind
12. The Pagan Book of the Dead: Ancestral Visions of the Afterlife and Other Worlds
13. The Secret History of Vampires: Their Multiple Forms and Hidden Purposes
14. Dictionary of Ancient Magic Words and Spells: From Abraxas to Zoar
15. Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore, Mythology, and Magic
16. Traditional Magic Spells for Protection and Healing
17. Dictionary of Gypsy Mythology: Charms, Rites, and Magical Traditions of the Roma
18. Tales of Witchcraft and Wonder: The Venomous Maiden and Other Stories of the Supernatural
19. A Lapidary of Sacred Stones: Their Magical and Medicinal Powers Based on the Earliest Sources

His latest work explores Solomon and his magical lore and the various traditions that would feed into the lore of Kabbalah, Gnostic thought, and other occulture:

Looking at the Solomonic magical tradition and Solomon’s profound influence on esoteric traditions around the world, Claude Lecouteux reveals King Solomon not only as one of the great kings of prehistory but also as the ancient world’s foremost magician and magus. Examining the primary sources on Solomon, such as the Bible, the Koran, and the writings of Flavius Josephus, the author explores Solomon’s judgments, his explorations, his literary and scientific works (including an herbal), and his constructions beyond the eponymous temple, such as the copper city in Andalus built by the djinns and the baths of Sulayman. He also looks at Solomon’s magical possessions, such as his famous ring and the Philosopher’s Stone. The author examines the supernatural powers granted to Solomon by his ring, which he received from the angel Gabriel, including command over animals, weather, and demons, and explores in detail Solomon’s power over genies and djinns.

Following the esoteric threads hidden within the primary sources on Solomon, Lecouteux reveals the work of Solomon the Magician, exploring his amulets, remedies, exorcisms, charms, and his influence on Arab and Western magic. Providing illustrations of sigils, talismans, and other magic symbols related to Solomon, the author examines the schools of Solomonic Folklore magic and works such as The Greater and Lesser Keys of Solomon the King and The Hygromancy of Solomon. He then looks at the extensive presence of Solomon in folklore worldwide, including in Armenia, Israel, Malaysia, Eastern Europe, Russia, Morocco, India, Mongolia, and among the Abyssinians of Ethiopia and the Copts in Egypt. He also looks at Solomon’s role within the Bulgarian tradition from which the Cathars derived.1


  1. Lecouteux, Claude. King Solomon the Magus: Master of the Djinns and Occult Traditions of East and West. Inner Traditions (September 27, 2022)

The Infinite Game

I desire that there should be hazards, difficulties and dangers to face; I am hungry for reality, for tasks and deeds, and also for privation and suffering.”
― Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game

“I am not sure that I exist, actually. I am all the writers that I have read, all the people that I have met, all the women that I have loved; all the cities I have visited.”
― Jorge Luis Borges

There is a place in the desert that is not a place, a site that is both in and out of time, a region where imagination and intellect take on the hue of personages neither fantastical nor real. Such a place has no name but is hinted at in the great literatures of the world. Qaf is one source name that has been reduced to that mystical site of the imaginal vortex. There are others…

It was the poet Shelley who once suggested that all great poetry has been contributing to one Great Poem. Tales within tales such as the Arabian Night’s, Ocean of Story, Hoshruba, and others imply such additions and embellishments of the tales that are endlessly repeating in various ways the processes of this one grand narrative in its minutiae. The postmoderns such as John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, Gaddis, and many others like Rushdie have incorporated this infinitely adaptable narrative into their ongoing projects. We can envision in the future a superior intelligence, an artificial intelligence that will discover and incorporate every aspect of this infinity of tales reducing the outlines to its structural elements while also adapting all the variations as in jazz or chess or go. Much like Hermann Hesse’s Majister Ludi, or The Glass Bead Game one imagines a future where the last humans will play the chords of this infinite game in all its fantastical labors and an aesthetic assemblage of Imagination – a sort of artificial Anima Mundi or Spiritus Mundi.

When I reread Borges, Calvino, Lem, and others who were fabulists of this infinite game one imagines it is a diamond like quantum artifice where all knowledge is incorporated in a sea of virtual light in which eternity is seen as a game the gods (us) play to entertain ourselves not in some orgy of mindless eroticism, but to grasp the unknown as unknown. Our mythologies of the gods and God have up to now been guided by moralist and dogmatic priesthoods of control and power. In the future our new gods as Cioran rightly put it will go beyond all morality and dogma to become absolutely new and without bounds – the gods of nihil where only the infinity of play without boundaries can keep us interested rather than bored with our pitiful morbidity.

Eternal metamorphosis without end in a realm of pure creation where nothing ever remains the same is for me paradise. In many ways our universe of pain and suffering is already the dark paradise we envision, but we have yet to accept it as such and instead have allowed ourselves to envision something else, something beyond this realm of darkness. It is our dream of the impossible stasis of some Platonic realm beyond that has produced the very tyranny of impossible gestures we live in instead. Modernity is an artificial realm of cages in which we have sought to escape the eternal metamorphosis, and in doing so we have instead created a society of hellish immolation. The apocalypse is only a gesture to end this madness, this kingdom of false time. The image of time-wars or the Lemurian time invasions from the far ends of time are such that seek to awaken us from our prisons in this false creation and return us to the endless change of metamorphic splendor.

Grimdark Traditions: Precursors of the Unheroic

“The day will come when you need them to respect you, even fear you a little. Laughter is poison to fear.”
― George R.R. Martin

The Unreal is exposed anytime we dissolve the lies by which we live and open ourselves up to what remains in the tatters of reality. Those who live in the darkness of those tatters know only the harsh truth of survival. When a world is broken it should stay broken. Those who seek to rebuild the world should be hung on the nearest tree. We who come in the aftermath of human civilization should all die quickly. The only recompense in this world or any other is a fast death. There is nothing more. Pain is the only god of this world. We do not worship gods. We kill them.

Fantastic narratives seek to uncover that which has been lost and made absent in the value systems of modernity. It’s neither a nostalgia for the past nor a transcendent vision of some spurious otherworldly realm, but the deep and abiding worlds we have hidden in plain sight. The more I read horror, weird, fantastic, grotesque, and marginal works for adult or children I realize that these works are opening us back into the hinterlands of our own world that has been covered over by two thousand years of religious ethics, moralism, and false realities that have given us a world of delusion, war, and endless internecine conflict over nothing – illusions that have nothing to offer us but death. Digging into the darker side of fantastic horror opens us once again to that which was falsified and broken in our vision of life and death. We need our darkness as much as we need light. In the end we came from darkness and the universe will end in darkness and absolute cold.

Even a cursory reading of ancient mythologies, fairy tales, and sagas of many nations show us the truth of our dark sides and our need for this darkness. To survive in a hostile universe humans configured imaginative ways to deal with the unknown. Ways we have bled off into religious transcendence rather than facing the darkness without and within ourselves. We need a return to the hinterlands of this realm that has been darkened and left in the blind hollows of forgetfulness for far too long.

The Fire and Ice series by G.R.R. Martin and the works of Michael Moorcock to me are great anti-Tolkien type works that have been followed by Grimdark fantasy out of the various traditions stemming from Robert E. Howard and the whole heroic Sword and Sorcery fictions of the 20th century. Many spread along this tree: Robert Jordan, Fritz Lieber, Pohl Anderson, Roger Zelazny, Jack Vance, Tanith Lee, Karl Edward Wagner… the list goes on.

Although David Gemmell is at the tail end of the heroic fantasy tradition that began with Howard, his works show signs of the grimdark world that would come later. The Drenai Saga is still to me one of the best of its kind and should still be read by those seeking entry into these darker times and worlds. His works are replete with the loner who faces the darkness on his own terms without the resources or buffering of some ideological or religious vision. His world is solidly that of those who go it alone in this dark world where the nihil reigns and yet those who find something within themselves that can meet the nihil with their own being.
If one were to name an author whose work began the grimdark worldview I’d start with Glen Cook whose The Black Company series with its pessimistic and cynical characters promoted the whole anti-Tolkien ethos to the hilt. As Brian Murphy tells us:

The Black Company operates in a world where heroism is futile and discretion the better part of valor, where “Dead heroes don’t get a second chance.” It’s a world of moral relativism; “evil” is merely the other side you happen to be fighting against that day: “Evil is relative, Annalist. You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger. Where you stand now, because of your oath, is opposite the Dominator. For you he is where your Evil lies.”

(Murphy, Brian. Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword-and-Sorcery (p. 202). Pulp Hero Press.)

Grimdark is dark, nihilistic, bound to the cynical and evil protagonists who seem to fall into that unheroic heroism based on survival and propagation rather than some outer dogma or ethos. Individual and chaotic these beings travel in pragmatic and opportunistic modes, capitalizing on circumstance and ready-to-hand offerings. Most of these characters are pragmatic and empirical rather than philosophical and speculative, and yet there is a tenacity and courage underlying even the most cynical harbinger of such darkness, of one who knows that the struggle of life is futile and yet faces of all odds with an openness of adventure lacking in resignation. Even the most doom-ridden face the inevitable with courage rather than cowardice. In a world that has no rules, and a universe that is indifferent to all human life, what should we do? These characters live now, not later, live in the midst of the unknowing that is and will always be what we are and face. In many ways their world resembles the future we face: climate catastrophe, imploding politics, decadence and the threat of nuclear holocaust. It’s an evil, nasty universe and those who survive in it are darker than it is. I’m not condoning this darkness, just stating the truth that it is there.

Goodreads offers plenty of the grimdark fictions: Best Grimdark 
Grimdark Magazine is a great place to start as well!

More Alive Than Dead: A Fantastic Tale

Life and death have been lacking in my life. —Jorge-Luis Borges

“I’m more alive than you are!”

My friend Tobias Samuels sat there looking exasperated. I was amazed; indeed, he did seem more alive than I. Even the ashen gray tint of his pale skin had gained a slight puckishness in the upturned curl of the lips. His eyes, jet-blue and fierce, peered at me out of the sunken hollows of his blanched skull like scorched flames ready to engulf me. His red hair seemed aglow and smoldering. His once prominent nose twitched at me in disapproval. The long thin line of his neck protruded from his immaculate red scarf which he always wore like a badge of excellence. No, he seemed more alive in death than I in life. But I wasn’t getting any younger, and my mind wasn’t exactly on par with my memory anymore. I had troubles deciphering periods of waking and sleeping that some term insomnia or the sleeplessness of ghosts dead before their time. But then again are ghosts not one of the specimens of the dead? Who was I to dispute my friend’s death when apparently he was there in front of me as plain as life itself. Maybe I was the one who is dead, not he. But I felt alive if this is what it is to be alive: I was in pain, my head ached, my legs grew numb in the long cold nights. I am here thinking am I not? Do the dead think? Don’t answer that, I’m as perplexed as you are about this strange affair. But we cannot deny that my friend Tobias is sitting there in his frayed suit vigorously disputing my claims of his early demise. It was only a fortnight that I stood before his grave trying to remember our many conversations on this very subject. He seemed overly concerned about the process of death, not death itself. He’d argue and argue various fine points on the decay of flesh. Morbid. I usually got up and poured us a glass of cognac or whiskey at this point in our strange conversations. I’d try to steer the conversations onto other topics. Love perhaps, I’d suggest. He’d have none of that. Death it would be or nothing. I, of course, preferred nothing. But there he was the embodiment of the perfect paradox: dead and alive, more alive than dead. Who was I to argue such an illogical thing as that.

– S.C. Hickman ©2022


Fantastic authors thrive on doppelgangers, people returning from the dead or being buried alive, the transmigration of souls, people metamorphosing into other creatures, inanimate objects becoming invested with human powers or emotions, and fiction shading into reality. Most often one will discover surrealism, horror and the grotesque, satire and picaresque, the weird and wonderful, dreams and delusions, the future and a twisted past. Madness, lunacy, strangeness, weird, uncanny and the drift of the unknown and impossible which leaves us in that region in-between the real and unreal unsure of which side of the dividing line we are on. The older I get the more I seem to return to that realm where the real and unreal thrive in the anomalous uncertainty where science goes silent and religion founders. The realm of ghosts, vampires, werewolves, tricksters, myth, legend, folklore, fable all commingle in the dark hinterlands where our forgotten ancestors wander among us telling us their tales like so many leaves strewn across the oceans of time. I’m beginning a series of tales that will wander through multiple themes that have interested me for years. The above is just an opening salvo. Nothing special. Quirky as I am.

Ambrose Bierce: A Tale of the Sphinx

Ambrose Bierce: A Tale of the Sphinx

Dog of a taciturn disposition said to his Tail:

Whenever I am angry you rise and bristle; when I am pleased you wag; when I am alarmed you tuck yourself in out of danger. You are too mercurial you disclose all my emotions. My notion is that tails are given to conceal thought. It is my dearest ambition to be as impassive as the Sphinx.’

‘My friend, you must recognize the laws and limitations of your beingr’ replied the Tail, with flexions appropriate to the sentiments uttered, ‘and try to be great some other way. The Sphinx has one hundred and fifty qualifications for impassiveness which you lack.’

What are they?’ the Dog asked.

‘One hundred and fortv-nine tons of sand on its tail.’

‘And- ?’

‘A stone tail.’

On Aging

“If I have learned anything in the last ten years, it has lead me instead to accentuate what I said at that time rather than to modify it. Everything has been a trace worse than I had foreseen: physical aging, cultural aging, the daily approach, sensed as a burden, of the dark journeyman who runs along at my side and urgently calls to me as to Raimund’s Valentin with the uncannily intimate phrase, “Come, little friend . . .. “”
– Jean Amery, On Aging

This woman cannot live more than one year.
Her growing death is hidden in a hopeless place…
—Robinson Jeffers

Reading Amery, I realize the truth of his words. When one reaches a certain age, one knows the meaning of pain because it is there in one’s daily awareness with all its minute dispensation. We guffaw at ourselves, all the little aches and pains, the flesh decaying moment by moment. We are a circus that repeats itself in the mirror of its own reduplication. Each stage of the journey is a carnival of madness. And, yet we continue to be. We seem to stick to this bone heart like believers. We are walking tombs, empty cisterns. My mind pretends its free, but with each breath I know it too will sink down in that dark loam where nothing is. But why should I cry about such things? Isn’t this what happens to us all? This human comedy of death that all in the end journey toward. We’ve built fantasias of immortality against such a day, but in the end we all know they are sweet lies we tell ourselves, don’t we? Why of course we do!

I’ve read my share of books on death and suicide (voluntary death). Most of these books are left for those who ponder the need to continue rather than the need not to. Survivors cling to this flesh, this life; stubbornly. They will not relinquish it to the dust. They seek some acknowledgement among the stars that their lives meant something, that they count. That they mattered. Of course, they don’t, nothing does. Even as we peer into the past, except for a few names and fictional characters who has survived in the human memory of culture, what and who has survived? No one and nothing. Dust to dust we wander among ghosts and fears, laughter and forgetfulness. Nothing more.

Most of the common creatures have been lost to time, lost in time, ghosts of a world that is now only a fiction in the minds of those like us who peer back into that abyss of origins.
I think we continue to live only for those around us who need us more than we need ourselves. When they no longer need us, we are then free to go. Maybe it is as simple as a smile, a gesture of quiet resignation. There is no solution to life, so there can be no solution for death. We fill the void with superfluous fictions to assuage our doubts. We leave justifications to those who need them. We do not, for there is none to be had. That is all.

Or is it? In old age what do we remember of those we loved and who loved us? A glance, a kiss, a kindness? Is there a sense of anger there jutting up, a hidden pain, a rejection? We seek to gather up all those moments of time and place them in the nameless place, the hidden place of undeath hoping they will not decay. We tell ourselves tales of the earth, the mother, the anima mundi who remembers all. She seems to sing to us from the forests and the seas. We hear her whispering in the leaves or the white bright snow as it wisps its way across the empty glen. This, too, is fantasy, but we sometimes wander among those images like old knights who have had a dream, an impossible dream of strangeness – echoes and mirages. We follow them into the hinterlands where all knights go mad and are free.

As if he were newly born and had never seen
The beauty of things, the terror, pain, joy, the song.
—Or is it better to live at ease, dully and long?
—Robinson Jeffers

Richard Matheson’s Tale ‘Shipshape Home’

“All of us have a path to follow and the path begins on earth.”
― Richard Matheson, What Dreams May Come

Listened to Richard Matheson’s tale Shipshape Home this morning. He’s always quirky. In this tale ‘first person intensive’ we have the usual Twilight Zone normalcy that slowly begins accruing subtle hints of madness and weirdness, never knowing what is real or unreal as the tale unfolds. A husband and wife move into an apartment, a dream come true; a little too true. The wife begins to suspect something is wrong, things are just not right, the paranoia edges in and the husband suspects the wife whose history is replete with too much sci-fi reading, too many natural occurrences in the past that were all discovered to have natural causes behind them. And, yet, there’s a slow change in the husband’s mood too. He begins to see all his wife’s coincidences and her discoveries of hidden doorways to rooms with engines, a janitor who looks like Peter Lorie – bugged eyed etc. who then suddenly towards the end of the tale acquires a strange ‘third eye’ in the back of his head. All of these things awaken in reader and narrator the same eerie feeling that something dark and foreboding is going to happen, something that we suspect will not turn out well for all involved.

Now, you’ll have to read the tale to find out just what did happen….

***

Born in Allendale, New Jersey to Norwegian immigrant parents, Matheson was raised in Brooklyn and graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School in 1943. He then entered the military and spent World War II as an infantry soldier. In 1949 he earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and moved to California in 1951. He married in 1952 and has four children, three of whom (Chris, Richard Christian, and Ali Matheson) are writers of fiction and screenplays.

His first short story, “Born of Man and Woman,” appeared in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1950. The tale of a monstrous child chained in its parents’ cellar, it was told in the first person as the creature’s diary (in poignantly non-idiomatic English) and immediately made Matheson famous. Between 1950 and 1971, Matheson produced dozens of stories, frequently blending elements of the science fiction, horror and fantasy genres.

Several of his stories, like “Third from the Sun” (1950), “Deadline” (1959) and “Button, Button” (1970) are simple sketches with twist endings; others, like “Trespass” (1953), “Being” (1954) and “Mute” (1962) explore their characters’ dilemmas over twenty or thirty pages. Some tales, such as “The Funeral” (1955) and “The Doll that Does Everything” (1954) incorporate zany satirical humour at the expense of genre clichés, and are written in an hysterically overblown prose very different from Matheson’s usual pared-down style. Others, like “The Test” (1954) and “Steel” (1956), portray the moral and physical struggles of ordinary people, rather than the then nearly ubiquitous scientists and superheroes, in situations which are at once futuristic and everyday. Still others, such as “Mad House” (1953), “The Curious Child” (1954) and perhaps most famously, “Duel” (1971) are tales of paranoia, in which the everyday environment of the present day becomes inexplicably alien or threatening.

He wrote a number of episodes for the American TV series The Twilight Zone, including “Steel,” mentioned above and the famous “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”; adapted the works of Edgar Allan Poe for Roger Corman and Dennis Wheatley’s The Devil Rides Out for Hammer Films; and scripted Steven Spielberg’s first feature, the TV movie Duel, from his own short story. He also contributed a number of scripts to the Warner Brothers western series “The Lawman” between 1958 and 1962. In 1973, Matheson earned an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his teleplay for The Night Stalker, one of two TV movies written by Matheson that preceded the series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Matheson also wrote the screenplay for Fanatic (US title: Die! Die! My Darling!) starring Talullah Bankhead and Stefanie Powers.

Novels include The Shrinking Man (filmed as The Incredible Shrinking Man, again from Matheson’s own screenplay), and a science fiction vampire novel, I Am Legend, which has been filmed three times under the titles The Omega Man and The Last Man on Earth and once under the original title. Other Matheson novels turned into notable films include What Dreams May Come, Stir of Echoes, Bid Time Return (as Somewhere in Time), and Hell House (as The Legend of Hell House) and the aforementioned Duel, the last three adapted and scripted by Matheson himself. Three of his short stories were filmed together as Trilogy of Terror, including “Prey” with its famous Zuni warrior doll.

In 1960, Matheson published The Beardless Warriors, a nonfantastic, autobiographical novel about teenage American soldiers in World War II.

He died at his home on June 23, 2013, at the age of 87 (read on Good Reads…)


But his tales on amazon: The Best of Richard Matheson – click here!

On Writing and Trash Culture

“We read deeply for varied reasons, most of them familiar: that we cannot know enough people profoundly enough; that we need to know ourselves better; that we require knowledge, not just of self and others, but of the way things are. Yet the strongest, most authentic motive for deep reading…is the search for a difficult pleasure.”
― Harold Bloom

Borges’s friend sighs and says the poetry has gone out of life, saying: “Everything is seen through utilitarian eyes.”

Borges replies: “Yes, well, poetry has been stolen everywhere. Last week I was asked in several places—two people asked me the same question—what’s the use of poetry? And I answered them with: What’s the use of death? What’s the use of the taste of coffee? What the use of me? What’s the use of us? What an odd question, isn’t it?”

Borges realizing the literalists and mass-mind capitalists have no clue as readers says:

“Someone reads a poem. If they are worthy of it, they receive it, they are grateful and they feel an emotion. And that’s not too little a use. To feel moved by a poem is not an insignificant event—it’s something we should be grateful for. But it seems that these people are not—it seems that they read in vain. If they read at all. It’s something I’m quite unsure of.”
—Jorge Luis Borges. Conversations

In our attack on humanistic learning, we’ve lost the subtle art of reading and reading well. Our critics belong to the upper capitalist class and cater to what sells rather than what is truly of worth. Our utilitarian culture promotes the bottom line not the power of mind and imagination. Most of the fodder that the masses buy and read is throw-away trash culture that will be forgotten next year. We are in dark times. Mindless and the drivel of trivial thought without staying power. Seven Billion or so people on the planet. Most don’t have time to read and work long hours and bare survival wages. Out of that seven billion we might have a few hundred million that read with any actual critical acumen. Even less are there among us that work through this mass of writing and can offer something back in return. I read one survey that suggested less than a hundred-thousand people read with quality, and out of those there may only be a few tens of thousands who seek to convey something toward writing themselves. When we look back over the past two-thousand years how many even here in the West who wrote survived and are read now with any frequency? Less than a few dozen writers. That’s all.

Even during Milton’s age writers were sectioned off into those who would echo past writers – like Milton himself – or quote past writers like Burton’s encyclopedic work on Melancholy. Echoing the past through the trope of transumption which allowed one to sneak a past writer’s notions into one’s work in such a way that only the best readers would know what was transpiring. Critical learning became a hunt for sources of such echoes. It was a way to realize that writing was an ‘act of reading’. In other words, books were themselves made out of books and were about previous books. One either echoed those ancients and their themes or one quoted them and commented on the quotes for one’s thematic or essayistic writing. To become a great reader is an art, not just a trivial pursuit. To open a book is to invest one’s time and life in change and apprehension. We in our time seem more like trivial pursuit artists gathering information like artificial machines for Jeopardy.

I’ve often felt that in our late capitalist age the whole effort of poetry falls flat on its face for most cultured and uncultured alike. People seem to have lost that ability to feel thoughts, to know them in their dark blood and bone hearts. Everything has become abstract and brittle. We seem to live in an age when everyone thinks they know everything and that they can say anything at all because nothing means anything at all. We have all these millions of people publishing as if their works should be published, as if that were some ‘right’. We should not allow so much to be published. Writing should be earned and bound to strict codification of a more empowering aesthetic. Sure, that’s elitist and in that sense I’m elitist. Too much trash is emerging in the datastream of our mindless internet culture. People who have not earned (i.e., studied the traditions of literature, poetry, art, history, music, etc.) the right to publish. Instead, we have lost the ‘art of reading’ and reading well. We’ve lost our literary critics who once supervened in this matter and gave us guidelines. Now it is truly anarchic and unruly.

We live in a true age of chaos, which in many ways is good, but in most ways is just plain shit. It’s as if in our utilitarian age we believe in the production of writing for productions sake. That the consumption of books, texts, and images should be multiplied to infinity. That the billions of bits of information now housed in the vast libraires across the world should be expanded into stockpiles of infinite resources that only some future artificial intelligence will be able to siphon through with quantum algorithms. We are lost in the ocean of words, inundated in the flowing weave of our mad age.

When we think of the ancient and modern battle of the books as in Swift we were only concerned with a few hundred books of worth. Look at us now. For someone being born in this age they will come upon a library and have no clue where to begin. Many of the best books have been censored and banned. Much of the great literature is mocked and derided. Instead we have all the critical snake oil being produced in postcolonial critical circles pushing only what fits into the canons of gender, race, and cultural studies. That’s fine as far as it goes, but the aesthetic style and mastery of language has been lost. Writing has become available to the mass mind, and the masses believe they have the right to publish anything as if it mattered. Sure, people’s thoughts always matter, but the shared world of language and culture needs filters that seek out the best not everything. We have no sense of what the best is anymore. We publish everything and what have we gotten for our hard-earned money. Shit. Over and over, I see that even on amazon where average readers will be explicit in their distaste and dissatisfaction with a piece of crap that was published and pushed by capitalist critics – bought and paid for by publishers promoting some author who should’ve never been published. While many authors who are published in small presses or Indie and are much more worthy to be read go unnoticed. It’s sad, really sad.

(Okay… the trigger madness caught me today… I must stop.) 🤣

Borges on Kafka’s Expressionism

“Kafka was a friend of the Expressionists. The Expressionists led the most important aesthetic movement of the twentieth century, far more interesting than Surrealism or Cubism or Futurism or mere Imagism. It was a total revision of literature. The same goes for painting. We can think of Ernst Barlach, of Oskar Kokoschka and others. Kafka was their friend. They wrote, they continuously renovated language, wove metaphors. You could say that the greatest Expressionist work was Joyce’s, although he didn’t belong to the movement and he wrote in English and not German (or rather in his English, a different English with made-up words). Expressionism was a great literary movement and Kafka published in one of its two magazines—I’m not sure if it was in Die Aktion or in Sturm. I had a subscription to both in the years 1916 and 1917. That’s when I first read a text by Kafka. I was so insensitive that I thought him tame, slightly anodyne compared with the verbal splendours of Expressionism (laughs). But Kafka went on to become the great classic writer of our tormented century. He will possibly be read in the future too, and it will be forgotten that he wrote at the beginning of the twentieth century, that he was a contemporary of the Expressionists and the First World War. All that will be forgotten. His work can become anonymous, and perhaps in time deserves to be so. It’s the most that a work can aim for, isn’t it? Few books attain that status.”
—Jorge Luis Borges. Conversations

On Blocking Angry Young Philosophers

“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?”
― Emil Cioran, On the Heights of Despair

Strangely, I just blocked a young philosopher on Face Book who had recently followed me and presumably did not know my pessimal and comic nihil at all, but felt the need to tell me just how pathetic of an old man I am. That I am no one and nothing is a truism, but pathetic? I have no pathos. Maybe indifference, but pathos and pathetic seem far from my view of inexistence. I mean do any of us exist in this inexistence? What is pathetic is for young men who presume to teach their elders on the evil of their ways, to tell them how pathetic they are and that their lives are meaningless and cursed. Strangely, again I agree with him but not for the anger to which he seemed to feel the need to castigate me and bring me down into his own inferno of philosophical anathema. If I am pathetic, it’s not because I use the pathetic fallacy and impute pain and suffering to existence, but because pain and suffering are qualities of my own inexistence and ones that follow and haunt my old age intensely and without ceasing. Do I let it bother me? No. It’s just the way of this pathetic inexistence of becoming that will only cease when I cease. In-between this pain and suffering I will continue to distract myself with the typical illusions of life by writing about nothing in particular except what keeps me distracted from such pain and suffering and angry young philosophers – as is only human.

🤣

Does Fernando Pessoa Exist?

“Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.”
― Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

Among those who wrote impossible books, books that do not exist yet exist, lives that could never be but are, thoughts that are not thoughts but rather distractions and cowardice, is the anti-man — Fernando Pessoa who would gather such non-thoughts into an anti-book he’d impute not to himself but one of his heteronyms. “Pessoa invented The Book of Disquiet, which never existed, strictly speaking, and can never exist.” (Richard Zenith) What we have here isn’t a book but its subversion and negation: the ingredients for a book whose recipe is to keep sifting, the mutant germ of a book and its weirdly lush ramifications, the rooms and windows to build a book but no floor plan and no floor, a compendium of many potential books and many others already in ruins. What we have in these pages is an anti-literature, a kind of primitive, verbal CAT scan of one man’s anguished soul. ‘Fernando Pessoa, strictly speaking, doesn’t exist.’ So claimed Álvaro de Campos, one of the characters invented by Pessoa to spare himself the trouble of living real life. Maybe in the end we are all spared such lives, because in the end we who believe we exist are inexistence manifest.

“I see life as a roadside inn where I have to stay until the coach from the abyss pulls up. I don’t know where it will take me, because I don’t know anything.”
—Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

Nick Land’s Diagnosis of Kant’s Negative Sublime

Kant was a consummate saint, a cheerful man. He was not a stoic, but rather, faithful to his Christian heritage, a voluptuary of defeat.

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

It is thus amongst the violent ones that are encountered the enemies of self. And we are all violent ones, the enraged, who, having lost the key to quietude, have access only to the secrets of laceration.

—E.M. Cioran, The Temptation to Exist

Kant’s Copernican revolution was neither the end of metaphysics nor its extirpation, rather it was a recentering and revision of the outer forms of the quest for God become internal: now God would become Reason and find his sovereignty at the center of the internal abyss of the inhuman void of the Mind itself. “Kant began something quite new in the history of Western philosophy, by adapting thought to a rigorous austerity. Unlike Descartes, for whom doubt was only a detour to a more secure edifice of knowledge, Kant committed his thought to renunciation.”1 This asceticism of the void and renunciation would lead Kant into the epistemic hell zones of martyrdom. “His mature work was a perpetual flagellation of dialectical desire. It was not with the scholastics, but with Kant, that philosophy tasted the fierce delights of martyrdom.” Out of this martyrdom would arise the philosophy that would become the cornerstone of modernity and capitalism: “It was Kant’s genius to combine the saint with the bourgeois. He was not immune to the prevalent ascetic practice of our age: accumulation.”

The austerity of this martyrology we see across the world even now is stipulated in the contours of Kant’s ascetic philosophy and its severing violence against the body and its sensible cunning reason. Land will echo various histories of such religious martyrdom as it delighted in the physical torment and abuse of the Christian martyrs. (I’ll not explicitly quote these which are full of gothic horror from such works a Delahaye’s The Passions of the Martyrs, and John Foxe’s The Book of Martyrs). What was once a religious institution has become all too secular in our capitalist society. This secularization of martyrology is at the heart of Kant’s and Capitalist culture, civilization, and economies. Everything must be sacrificed to the never-ending accumulation of filthy lucre, gold.

Kant’s moral imperative, his theoretic of the Sublime, his work ethic, his sense of renunciation and austerity all spell the need to renounce bodily pleasure for a darker pleasure of the mind:

“The sublimity evoked by an experience is in direct proportion to the devastation it wreaks upon the imagination. Because the pain resulting from the defeat of the imagination, or the animal part of the mind, is the tension that propels the mind as a whole into the rapture of sublime experience. Sublime pleasure is an experience of the impossibility of experience, an intuition of that part of the self that exceeds intuition by means of an immolating failure of intuition. The sublime is only touched upon as pathological disaster.”

At the center of his essay Delighted to Death is Land’s materialist reading of Kant’s Sublime as the purity of martyrdom, the cutting of the sensible (animal) from its reason’s (inhuman) core:

“The martyrdom of the imagination is described as rational rather than rationalizing, as irrelevant to the constitution of reason. A materialist deciphering of this revision requires that repression – to use an inappropriately mild word – precedes its justification. If one is to gain some purchase upon the gloomy cathedral of our history, along with a little fresh air, it is important to begin with the sublime rather than aesthetic contemplation in general, and to read the sublime as generative rather than revelatory in its relation to reason.”

This turn toward a genealogical history following in Nietzsche’s footsteps – and, we would add, Freud – offers inroads into Land’s materialist diagnosis. (I’ll have more to say about this… the first three essays in Fanged Noumena deal with aspects of Kant who is for Land the pivotal figure of modernity.) In many ways Kant’s sublime is the war cry of Reason against Imagination; that is, the ascetic law against sensibility and animality as the logics of pure reason which would culminate in Hegel’s philosophy. As Land puts it:

“Reason is something that must be built, and the site of its construction first requires a demolition. The object of this demolition is the synthetic capability that Kant refers to as the imagination, and which he exhibits as natural intelligence or animal cunning. This is the capability to act without the prior authorization of a juridical power, and it is only through the crucifixion of natural intelligence that the human animal comes to prostrate itself before universal law.”

The extirpation of imagination (natural intelligence or cunning) is at the core of Kant’s sublime, both mathematical and dynamic. Kant’s negative sublime, or the negation of pleasure for the refinement of pure reason Land is a violence for annihilation of the Imagination:

“For reason has programmatically deafened itself to the howls of the body, and it is only by means of the aesthetic detour of the sublime that the devastating effects of its sovereignty can come to be enjoyed. Squeamishness does not befit a moralist. A certain harshness is necessary if one would prevent life from being delighted to death. Such harshness, indeed, that the pathological lunge towards death rediscovers itself in the process of its own rigorous extirpation; sublimated into the thanatropic frenzy of reason.”

(One can see in such poets as William Blake in the wake of the Age of Sensibility a defender of the body and Imagination against Kant and Newton, etc. Blake was if anything reaffirming the animal intelligence and cunning of existence against the abstractions of Reason and the Enlightenment.)


  1. Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007. Urbanomic/Sequence Press. 2011.

The Destruction of the Western Metaphysics

Bataille is a philosopher not of indifference, but of evil, of an evil that will always be the name for those processes that flagrantly violate all human utility, all accumulative reason, all stability and all sense.

—Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation

Nick Land’s project – if you would like to term it that – is the complete and utter annihilation of Western Metaphysical tradition based as it is on the concept of ‘Being’. Anti-Philosophy – or, should we term it, Anti-Platonic philosophy – seeks to do away with this two-world theoretic or theo-ontological prison house we’ve been trapped in for two thousand years. Being was conceived out of process and becoming not the other way round since the world is and remains chaos and composition without stability, form, or mastery. It is pre-ontological process, not Being.

Ultimately Nick Land may be seen someday as a footnote in the history of last humanisms that took as their task the destruction of all humanisms. I cannot call him the first post-humanist only because he is part of the post-modernity he sought to exit and yet was still caught in the trap of its circular poison. His siding with Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Freud, Bataille, Cioran, and others was part of the endgame of two-thousand-year-old mistake, the turn away from the solar trajectory into a utopian dream of transcendence. Although himself an antagonist of transcendence and the Platonic traditions he was still bound to its poisonous vectors. In many ways his exit was also a silence in regard to philosophy proper. His anti-philosophical tendencies led him to the Rimbaudian ‘derangement of the senses’ that his mentor Bataille dabbled with imaginatively and in his personal life. Nick would seek that destructive potential in personal and public appraisal and that led to the psychosis we’ve all seen described.

The Land that returned from that mental death is not the Land of the early vision, but its echo and demise; or, an entry into a new shapeshifting guise. The husk of his former self would enter other avenues of thought and become feral and part of the shapeshifting werewolf world he once envisioned and delighted in. Even his flirtations with NRx and Cyber-Economics is a disguised inflection of his early tendency to further and accelerate the downfall not only of Western metaphysics but of its culture, humanity, and civilization. All his fantasies of AI infestations from the future are part of this warp and weave of thanatology. He is silent now, and from what I hear is now reinventing himself and writing again in private and among friends. What will come out of that no one might conjecture. Maybe he will discover another shape and mask in this struggle against the dark turn in culture and civilization his mentors brokered. We will await that moment…


Till then a few more notes on as Land puts it:

“Libidinal materialism (Nietzsche) is not, however, a thermodynamics. This is because it does not distinguish between power and energy, or between negentropy and energy. It no longer conceives the level of entropy as a predicate of any substantial or subsistent being. In contrast to the energy of physical thermodynamics, libidinal energy is chaotic, or pre-ontological. Thus Nietzsche’s devastating attacks of the notions of ‘being’, ‘thing-initself’, of a substratum separable from its effects, etc. Where thermodynamics begins with an ontology of energy, of particles (Boltzmann), of space/ time, and then interprets distributions and entropy levels as attributes of energy, libidinal materialism accepts only chaos and composition. ‘Being’ as an effect of the composition of chaos, of the ‘approximation of a world of becoming to a world of being’ [N III 895]. With the libidinal reformulation of being as composition ‘one acquires degrees of being, one loses that which has being’ [N III 627]. The effect of ‘being’ is derivative from process, ‘because we have to be stable in our beliefs if we are to prosper, we have made the ‘real’ world a world not of change and becoming, but one of being’ [N III 556].”
—Nick Land. The Thirst for Annihilation

This fictional ‘approximation’ of Being to process that underpins Western Metaphysics from Plato to Heidegger and beyond is at its core a pathetic and bewildering attempt to create a utopian world of stasis. Plato sought to stop the world, to freeze it in Being and stamp it with the formalism of his Ideas (Theory of Forms). Against this Nietzsche would be the first to trace a libidinal energetics, a theory of chaos and composition:

Firstly: a concerted questioning of the logicomathematical conception of the same, equal, or identical, die Gleichheit, which is dissolved into a general energetics of compositions; of types, varieties, species, regularities.

Secondly: a figure of eternal recurrence, stretched between a thermodynamic baseline (Boltzmann’s theory of eternal recurrence) and a libidinal summit, a theoretical machine for transmuting ontologico-scientific discoveries into excitations.

Thirdly: a general theory of hierarchies, of order as rank-order (composition). There are no longer any transcendental limits; Schopenhauer’s ‘grades of objectification’ are decapitated, thus depolarized, opened into intensive sequences in both directions.

Fourthly: a diagnosis of nihilism, of the hyperbolic of desire. Recurrence is the return of compositional impetus across the scales, the insatiability of creative drive.1

Sigmund Freud would be the second great thinker of libidinal energetics. He does not conceive desire as lack (as does Lacan and his ilk), representation, or intention, but as dissipative energetic flow, inhibited by the damming and channeling apparatus of the secondary process (domain of the reality principle). Psychoanalysis, as the science of the unconscious, is born in the determination of that which suffers repression as the consequence of a transgression against the imperative of survival. It is the pursuit of this repressed threat to the ego which carries Freud along the profound arch of thought from sexuality to the death drive. (Land) Yet, Freud himself would oppose the truth he’d discovered and defend the ego against the troubling world of the Unconscious libidinal energetics he’d uncovered opting for a therapeutics of desire against its release. As Land puts it:

It is because of this basic prejudice against the claims of desire that psychoanalysis has always had a tendency to degenerate into a technology of repression that subtilizes, and therefore reinforces, the authority of the ego. In the terms both of the reality principle and the conservative moment of psychoanalysis, desire is a negative pressure working against the conservation of life, a dangerous internal onslaught against the self, tending with inexorable force towards the immolation of the individual and his civilization. (ibid.)

Freud came upon the darkest insight in his Beyond the Pleasure Principle where he sketches out the mazings of Life: “It would be in contradiction to the conservative nature of the drives if the goal of life were a state of things which had never yet been attained. On the contrary, it must be an old state of things, an initial state from which the living entity has at one time or another departed and to which it is striving to return by the mazings [Umwege] along which its development leads… For a long time, perhaps, living substance was thus being constantly created afresh and easily dying, till decisive external influences altered in such a way as to make ever more complicated mazings [immer komplizierteren Umwegen] before reaching its aim of death. These mazings [Umwege] to death, faithfully kept to by the conservative drives, would thus present us today with the picture of the phenomena of life [F III 248].”2

Commenting on this passage Land will trace the complex and labyrinthine journey of life as it seeks to return to its dark and chaotic realm of absolute zero:

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? (ibid.)

It’s here that the basis of Land’s accelerationist theoretic finds its kernel and origins:

Life is simply the name we give to the surface-effects of the mainsequence. Compared to the violently erratic libidinal processes that follow it, the main-sequence seems remarkably stable. Nevertheless, libido departs from its pre-history only because it has already become unstable within it, and even though the preponderant part of the main-sequence occurs within a geological time-span, the evidence of a basic tendency to the geometric acceleration of the process is unmistakable. The main-sequence is a burning cycle, which can be understood as a physico-chemical volatilization of the planetary crust, a complexification of the energy-cycle, or, more generally, as a dilation of the solar-economic circuits that compose organic matter, knitting it into a fabric that includes an ever-increasing proportion of the (‘ inorganic’) energetic and geo-chemical planetary infrastructure. (ibid.)

This fusion of Nietzsche, Freud, and Bataille in the great arc of a geo-physical libidinal energetics based on the solar trajectory and ‘burning cycle’ as part of the ‘solar-economic circuits that compose organic matter” in an explosive eternal recurrence of ever-increasing complexification underpins every aspect of planetary existence we see around us today.

For Land the difference between inorganic and organic matter is one of function and operates at the level of filtering and selection:

Of course, the distinction between the organic and the inorganic is without final usefulness, because organic matter is only a name for that fragment of inorganic material that has been woven into meta-stable regional compositions. If a negative prefix is to be used, it would be more accurate to place it on the side of life, since the difference is unilateral, with inorganic matter proving itself to be non-exclusive, or indifferent to its organization, whereas life necessarily operates on the basis of selection and filtering functions. (ibid.)

The solar-economy based as it is on the death-drive and pure loss enabled Land to conceive a materialist theory of culture “far freer of idealist residues than the representational accounts of the dominant Marxist and psychoanalytical traditions, since it does not depend upon the mediation of a metaphysically articulated subject for its integration into the economic substrate. … Capital is precisely and exhaustively the definitive anti-culture.” (ibid.) Capitalism seeks to defend itself against the planetary solar-economy and create a utopian space outside the trajectory of pure loss. As Land will summarize,

It is this constitutive principle of bourgeois economy that leads inevitably to chronic overproduction crisis, and its symptomatic redundancies of labour and capital. It is not that capital production ‘invents’ the crisis which comes to be named ‘market saturation’, it is rather that capital production is the systematic repudiation of overproduction as a problem. … Bataille, in contrast, does not see a problem for production in the perpetual reproduction of excess, but rather, in a manner marking the most radical discontinuity in respect to classical political economy, sees production itself as intrinsically problematic precisely insofar as it succeeds. (ibid.)

Consumption and the consumer society is a parody and inversion of the solar-economy of pure loss. Capitalism seeks to circumvent the economy of loss by a sleight of hand act through an internalization of the solar-economy within an eternal recurrence of ever-accelerating financialization bound to the maze of black circuits construed by Wall Street’s abyss of algorithmic logic and vigilant surveillance driven by artificial intelligence and its inhuman gaze upon the excess that will not be tamed.


  1. Nick Land. The Thirst for Annihilation. Routledge. (1992)
  2. Freud, Sigmund. Complete Works. W. W. Norton & Company; The Standard edition (September 17, 1990)