The Uncanniness of Puppets

For a brief while, let us mull over some items of interest regarding puppets. They are made as they are made by puppet makers and manipulated to behave in certain ways by a puppet master’s will. The puppets under discussion here are those made in our image, though never with such fastidiousness that we would mistake them for human beings. If they were so created, their resemblance to our soft shapes would be a strange and awful thing, too strange and awful, in fact, to be countenanced without alarm. Given that alarming people has little to do with merchandising puppets, they are not created so fastidiously in our image that we would mistake them for human beings, except perhaps in the half-light of a dank cellar or cluttered attic. We need to know that puppets are puppets. Nevertheless, we may still be alarmed by them. Because if we look at a puppet in a certain way, we may sometimes feel it is looking back, not as a human being looks at us but as a puppet does. It may even seem to be on the brink of coming to life. In such moments of mild disorientation, a psychological conflict erupts, a dissonance of perception that sends through our being a convulsion of supernatural horror.

—Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against The Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror

With the advent of CGI based animated films we’ve seen a hyperrealism suddenly replace the older hand drawn cartoons of yesteryear. But as many critics suggest this may not be a good thing. In the recent Lion King remake by Disney the characters that were in the first film so emotionally cute and humanized that people were drawn to them as if magnetized by their warmth and cozy appeal, just the opposite has happened with the newer remake which provides a more distant and cold apprehension of these highly stylized and superrealistic figures. In the new film the characters have become too real and uncanny, as if they could walk off the screen into an African savannah and be right at home among the wildlife. As Lindsay Wright suggests:

Indeed, a viewer of the new version of “The Lion King” often admires the artistic sensibilities of the film in the same way that they might admire a new piece of technological wizardry. We may be struck by the emotional beauty of a painting by Leonardo DaVinci, to put it bluntly, but it is unlikely that we will derive the same kind of emotional warmth from a viewing of the latest offering from car manufacturer Tesla.1

As many critics have suggested this hyperreal CGI technology has lost something in translation from the older hand drawn animations.

As Ligotti suggests above: “We need to know that puppets are puppets.” If something is too real we begin to feel a sense of dread and horror, as if the thing we’re watching may be watching us in return. The duplicity between a dead inanimate object suddenly taking on a life of its own disturbs us. Even in animated features the older hand drawn cartoons could never become uncanny in that sense or realism. Yet its just this sense of something that we assume is not real becoming all too real that threatens our sense of a well-ordered cosmos. When things suddenly do things they shouldn’t we begin to think reality is no longer what we thought, that something has change; that the world is not right and has suddenly become topsy-turvy overthrowing all the known laws of physics.

For two hundred years the literature of the fantastic: the modes of Gothic, Grotesque, Macabre, Symbolist, Decadence, Surrealism, Fabulism, Magical Realism, etc. have replaced for a secular society what was once part of the domain of religious consciousness and expectation: the Supernatural. The notion of the marvelous, fantastic, and uncanny have all taken on new meanings in our secular society, allowing non-believers to experience the nostalgia of religious beliefs without adhering to there outmoded rituals and dogmas. As Victoria Nelson in The Secret Life of Puppets reminds us:

Shakespeare’s worldview of the Renaissance-the worldview that holds there is another, invisible world besides this one, that our world of the senses is ruled by this other world through signs and portents, that good and evil are physically embodied in our immediate environment-is alive and well today in science fiction and supernatural horror films that build on a three-hundred-year tradition of the secularized supernatural and behind that on the millennia-old beliefs Western culture shares with older societies around the world.

There’s something deep and pervasive in the human psyche that cannot be expunged, repressed, excised, nor erased: this need for an affective relation to the Unknown. As Lovecraft once suggested: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” He’d go on to elaborate,

Because we remember pain and the menace of death more vividly than pleasure, and because our feelings toward the beneficent aspects of the unknown have from the first been captured and formalised by conventional religious rituals, it has fallen to the lot of the darker and more maleficent side of cosmic mystery to figure chiefly in our popular supernatural folklore. This tendency, too, is naturally enhanced by the fact that uncertainty and danger are always closely allied; thus making any kind of an unknown world a world of peril and evil possibilities. When to this sense of fear and evil the inevitable fascination of wonder and curiosity is superadded, there is born a composite body of keen emotion and imaginative provocation whose vitality must of necessity endure as long as the human race itself. Children will always be afraid of the dark, and men with minds sensitive to hereditary impulse will always tremble at the thought of the hidden and fathomless worlds of strange life which may pulsate in the gulfs beyond the stars, or press hideously upon our own globe in unholy dimensions which only the dead and the moonstruck can glimpse.2

When children play with dolls, or adults watch a Ventriloquist performing there is this sense that we are fascinated by these inanimate objects suddenly awakening in our midst and taking on a life of their own. And, yet, if this were truly to happen as in some horror films with puppets that uncannily do just that and become killers like Chucky in Child’s Play movie in made in 1988. In this film the doll Chucky is a sneering red-haired doll that is possessed by the spirit of a deceased serial killer. Many of the films’ plots revolve around Chucky’s attempts to transfer his soul from the doll body into a living person. A sense of possession and murderous intent, of a doll that becomes all too real and moves without the strings of a puppet master intentionally and with a willful purpose. In our “secular society in which the cult of art has supplanted scripture and direct revelation, we turn to works of the imagination to learn how our living desire to believe in a transcendent reality has survived outside our conscious awareness”.

In our own age various trends in the sciences and engineering are converging to create new forms of advanced intelligence or AI and AGI, and along with that is initiatives to produce lifelike humanoid robots that will allow such advanced intelligence a physical platform within which to move and operate. Uncanny Valley  has been working to build such uncanny systems that seem in appearance and manner to reduplicate human movements and feature sets as if they were not only our doubles but were in some future iteration becoming more us than we are. As one roboticist suggests: “Twenty years from now human-like robots will walk among us, they will help us, play with us, teach us, help us put groceries away,” says David Hanson, “I think AI will evolve to a point where they will truly be our friends.”

One philosopher, Reza Negarestani asks the question: “Should we limit the model of AGI—both from a methodological perspective and a conceptual perspective that is the hermeneutics of general intelligence—to mirroring capacities and abilities of the human subject?” His answer is an emphatic “No”:

In limiting the model of AGI to the replication of necessary conditions and capacities required for the realization of human cognitive and practical abilities, we risk to reproduce or preserve those features and characteristics of human experience that are purely local and contingent. We therefore risk falling back on a parochial picture of the human as a model of AGI that we set out to escape.4

Instead what he seeks is a new path forward, one that allows for the “realization of an intelligence that moves from a particular contingent perspectival consciousness to a genuine self-consciousness, an outside view of itself” (22).

For many this sudden awakening of machinic life with intelligence that can be self-motivated, and non-human or inhuman in the sense of not being modeled on our human cognitive and affective relations is both scary and fascinating. For thousands of years humans have been both fascinated and fearful of statues, dolls, puppets, and machines that could reduplicate human abilities and work, but the notion of an entity that can also begin to exist beyond our human modes of intelligence and emotion seems almost too much to think much less comprehend. This is where both aspects of the fantastic: Science Fiction and Horror come into play, each in its own way confronts such possibilities as both impossible and unknown; and, yet, brings to life the very real possibility that such strange and uncanny beings may one day live among us. Horror allows us to register our fears and fascinations in ways that allow us to understand these emotions at a distance and through fictional scenarios of imaginative apprehension rather in the very real and literal confrontation of an actual face to face meeting with this monstrous other/alterity. It’s this aesthetic horror that allows us to shape our fears into something we can as humans handle, and begin to accept the possibility of knowing and realizing what was and is Unreal taking shape before our very eyes. For as Ligotti says:

Because if we look at a puppet in a certain way, we may sometimes feel it is looking back, not as a human being looks at us but as a puppet does. It may even seem to be on the brink of coming to life.


  1. Wright, Lindsay. ‘The Lion King’ Remake Brings Iconic Characters to Life. Tech Geeked July 19, 2019 https://techgeeked.com/the-lion-king-remake-brings-iconic-characters-to-life/
  2.  Lovecraft, H.P.. Supernatural Horror in Literature. Online: http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/essays/shil.aspx
  3.  Nelson, Victoria. The Secret Life of Puppets. Harvard University Press (November 1, 2003)
  4.  Negarestani, Reza. An Outside View of Ourselves as a Toy Model AGI. Intelligence and Spirit: https://www.urbanomic.com/book/intelligence-and-spirit/

Why horror?

Why horror?

Because it speaks to the messiness of actual humans living their lives in a world that seems bent on self-destruction in religion, politics, war, and any number of other unknown or known possibles from natural or man-made events. People are surrounded by fears of unknowns that could come right into their home towns, their homes, their minds… people are surrounded by a world on the brink of climate catastrophe, while their politicians play right-wing/left-wing grandiose mediatainment bullshit that does nothing to alleviate real suffering, misery, and pain in people’s actual lives. The migration of tens of thousands of people in the past few years will only become more real as climate change drives people toward cooler climes; or, from the degradation of war torn tyrants and dictators. All the racist, gender, and socio-cultural issues seem to be widening and turning us against each other as if some displaced world of sacrifice and blood sport were afoot in these late times.  We are living in fear with fear every second of our lives… we are in a living horror novel that writes itself anew everyday. So that horror writers don’t need to come up with anything new to write about: it’s already too much with us… what the best horror writers do now for us is give us the tools to face and live with these fears, work through all the various affective relations that haunt us in our daily lives and fill us with real dread. Horror stories are like little models of this actual world in bite size chunks helping us to see what we are facing with the help of an intelligent friend to guide us through it like Virgil to Dante… this is what horror is doing now! It’s our survival boat… to daily living with fear!

Writer’s block?

What? Writer’s block? I don’t have time… sorry… Just do it… I get up every morning and put out gibberish, then crazy stuff, then poetry, then hack crap, then a good sentence… then I say: “Okay, let’s start with that!” Follow that good sentence to the moon; no finger pointing Zen allowed… just a shit load of work: never ending work… and tired fingers… well… and being a little insane helps too!!!

Two tendencies in critical horror…


Matt Cardin in his essay on Ligotti makes mention of the diametric appraisal of H.P. Lovecraft’s early and late work, Ligotti favoring the early unreal and more fantastic tales while Joshi favors the documentary realism of the later Chthulu and other tales:

“The upshot of the matter, generally speaking, is that Ligotti thinks Lovecraft was at his worst in the very stories where Joshi thinks he was at his best.”
– The Master’s Eyes Shining with Secrets: The Influence of H.P. Lovecraft on Thomas Ligotti

As much as I admire S.T. Joshi for his years of dedication in reviving interest in Lovecraft, and critical/biographical studies on other major horror writers, there’s always seemed a pervasive adherence in his work to a strict secular and atheistic aesthetic; an almost dogmatic, vision and judgment concerning various authors in some hierarchy and ranking system that just doesn’t seem part of the traditional literature of criticism from Dr. Johnson to Harold Bloom. His economical expression and the overarching need to filter the more unreal and fantastical elements through his Enlightenment gaze seems to have left certain aspects of this tradition in a state of invisibility. I’ll have to say I agree with Ligotti that it is in the early tales that Lovecraft’s work shines, allows the drifts from the Outside to seep in unhinged by any filters of Reason and strict economy of ethical evaluation. But as in all things maybe the divine Oscar Wilde in his usual witty tone is correct:

“Two men look out a window. One sees mud, the other sees the stars.” ~ Oscar Wilde

The Challenge of Horror: The Fragility of Existence

 

“When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs as you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures.”1

Flannery O’Connor was neither subtle nor officious in her statements regarding literature, instead she said plainly and with acumen exactly what she felt about the deep seated beliefs she held regarding both writing and her faith. In many ways this is the challenge that horror writers face in our time. Most readers are complacently satisfied in their own opinions about life, assuming an optimistic cast of mind that if we work hard enough, do the right things, keep our nose clean, vote for the right leader, protest against the powerful and rich and ugly forces that seek to control us, make the right friends, teach our children the right ethics, go out for an evening or holiday, take in a movie or some other diversion of entertainment, etc. that somehow, someway things in the end will turn out for the best. That after all we live in the best of all possible worlds, right? Wrong.

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Articulating the Impossible: Horror as Communication


David Peak in his small book The Spectacle of the Void situates horror tales as the “organization of human self-deception” in its most extreme form, and that it arose within literature because of our human lack of communicability. This inability to communicate fear and the unknown has according to Peak taken two forms:

1) “the narrative of the person with something to say that cannot be said (an inarticulate lucidity)”; and 2) “the narrative of the person who is able to articulate their thoughts and feelings but still unable to make sense of their reality (an articulate confusion)”. (p. 12)

When confronted by the horrific the experiences of nausea, sickness, pain, anguish are among the range of extreme states that concern such inexplicable and undefinable moments precisely to the degree that they are uncontrollable, in so far as they shatter the composed rationality of the isolated individual and leave her fully aware of what has happened but unable to speak it or utter it in any articulate way; else leaving her dumbfounded yet knowledgeable but unable to decode the very irrational context she has suffered in a reasonable manner. In this way, such experiences open on to a mode of communication that exceeds language. Communication, the extreme thinker of horror Georges Bataille once suggested, requires ‘a being suspended in the beyond of oneself, at the limit of nothingness’. (Theory of Religion)

Bataille theorized that we have developed two forms of communication: that which ‘links’ humans through gesture, utterance, laughter, tears, etc.; and that which links humans to death and the impossible (i.e., horror, the unknown). As Bataille would say in his book Inner Experience:

“Anguish is no less than intelligence the means for knowing, and the extreme limit of the ‘possible’, in other respects, is no less life than knowledge. Communication still is, like anguish, to live and to know. The extreme limit of the ‘possible’ assumes laughter, ecstasy, terrified approach towards death; assumes error, nausea, unceasing agitation of the ‘possible’ and the impossible and, to conclude – broken, nevertheless, by degrees, slowly desired – the state of supplication, its absorption into despair.” 2

Communication as a form of supplication*, a humble request or appeasement to quiet, soothe, assuage the pain and suffering of the felt horror that is neither fully articulable or mastered by the reasoning powers of the mind.


*from Old French suplicacion “humble request,” from Latin supplicationem (nominative supplicatio) “a public prayer, thanksgiving day,” noun of action from past participle stem of supplicare “to beg humbly” (in Old Latin as sub vos placo, “I entreat you”), from sub “under” (see sub-) + placare “to calm, appease, quiet, soothe, assuage,” causative of placere “to please” (see please). In ancient Rome, a religious solemnity, especially in thanksgiving for a victory or in times of public danger.


  1. Peak, David. The Spectacle of the Void. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (December 1, 2014)
  2. Bataille, Georges. Inner Experience. SUNY Press (September 1, 2014)

The Truth of Horror

At this point it may seem that the consolations of horror are not what we thought they were, that all this time we’ve been keeping company with illusions. Well, we have.

—Thomas Ligotti, The Consolations of Horror

The more I read contemporary horror the more I realize just how terrible our world truly is, all the fragmented lives, the sorrow, the pain, the stupidity of being alive. Most of these people you meet in many horror stories are just regular people, neither smart nor dumb, just people on the edge of life presented with traumatic events that just don’t make sense. And, that’s the problem, people need to believe that things make sense, that their lives are not just a bundle of impressions, insoluble riddles.

People want to believe their lives matter, and when they realize that nothing matters; not their life, not their work, not their families… it just turns them dark and sad wanting it all to go away. It always comes down to “Why me?” Before our age they’d of said: “Why me, Lord? Why’d you let this happen?” and they could have a crutch upon which to hang their sorrow, someone bigger and stronger than themselves to lean on and help them understand just why everything had gone to hell in a handbasket like some head toppling out of a guillotine. But there is no more God to lean on in our time, no big boy up there on the other side of things looking down with kind eyes and gentle whispers telling you it’s all goin’ to be alright.

No. Now you’re all alone. Nobody there to comfort you in the midst of all this darkness. Just your own misery and sorrow that want go away… it’s what people call despair, futility, the bittersweet truth of this life. No answer. Nothing. Just a empty world full of empty people living in an empty universe whose absolute indifference as to your pain and suffering is one of absolute silence. That’s why horror now is absolute, it leaves you alone with the alone; no place to turn, no one to know, no place to go, and nothing to do but nothing.

Horror isn’t there to comfort you or entertain you, nor is it there to give you the answer to your deepest question. All horror can do is open your eyes, open your ears, open your heart and mind to the absolute nullity of everything and then leave you stripped to the bone wondering why it all had to be in the first place. And, even then, it will tell you one thing: it didn’t have to be, it was all a big fucking mistake.

That’s the truth of horror: the darkness of darkness…

When you strip off all the layers of illusion that defend you against knowing what you are, when you’re left with this thing stripped to the bone and realize nothing you say, nothing you do will change it; that, for better or worse, you are nothing, nothing at all but a meat puppet dangling in a pain vat of endless terror; and that even an answer is no answer, only another illusion seeking to cover up the truth. Sadly we know this, that is why we help those who will never be able to face that utter darkness, and they will always need those illusions even with all the suffering entailed. So we try to comfort – not ourselves, but those who will never know, never understand the bitter truth. So we write the illusions that assuage their pain, their grief, their anguish;  give them that one spot of relief to continue; or, as Beckett would say: “I can’t go on, I’ll go on!”

The only truth of horror that can be offered is to lead you to that place of emptiness where the nothing you are meets the nothing that is

Sonic Horrorism: Unsound/Undead Musical War – A Sonic-Fiction

“One of the focuses of the unit is to investigate deceptive frequency-based strategies, technologies, and programmes developed by military organizations to orchestrate phenomena of tactical haunting within conflict zones. They claim that this ‘martial hauntology’ is a subset of an overarching weaponisation of vibration. Their ongoing experiments have been concerned with the field of peripheral sonic perception—what they have dubbed ‘Unsound’.”

—From AUDINT—Unsound:Undead (Urbanomic / Art Editions)

Sonic warfare will create the haunted technoscapes of the future, soundworlds of decay and destruction leading humans to a joyous omnicide at the hands of their own music. As in the days of old when the great whales of the oceans followed the ley lines of their magnetic folds into the beached wonders of serene suicide, so will humanity under the hauntology of sonic catastrophe ride the musical chaos between silences into the deadly infernal of self-lacerating annihilation.

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The Road to the Unreal

…each night, as he dreamed, he carried out shapeless expeditions into its fantastic topography. To all appearances it seemed he had discovered the summit or abyss of the unreal, that paradise of exhaustion, confusion, and debris where reality ends and where one may dwell among its ruins.

—Thomas Ligotti, Vastarien

The echoes of thought from one work to another is a twisted tangle of chaos, a forest of nettles and puzzles, a labyrinth of false paths and wrong turns; and, yet, it does happen from time to time, that a brave quester, a journeyer into the obscure zones of horror will occasionally pass through the barriers between the real and unreal, enter into those nether regions of the unknown where the unmanifest mysteries of a darker and more uncertain topography of the fantastic is revealed and transmitted. Echoed in the secret chambers of hearts and minds like so many leaves swirling in the autumn wind.

There are those who have left signs, fragmentary visions, sorceries of hallucinatory voyages or strange adventures: lunatics and madmen, savants and dark prophets, oracles and sirens; decadent visionaries full of lurid tales of the unknown. Those who have been torn and wounded by the indifference of the natural and unnatural forces of these ruinous and unfathomable realms have on occasion returned to relay their dark wisdom. Especially those of the minor canon of pessimistic authors who have never been widely circulated in mainstream culture, those who have opened portals and doorways into these dark and tantalizing regions of the ancient occulture and obscura, seen  hidden arcana of the unholy that breaks the weak souled brethren but gives back to those who persevere unbidden truths.

The Well of Wyrd, where memory, pain, and torment commingle and the tales left by these voyagers surfaces from the depths of the haunted labyrinths we learn of their failures and successes. Generations of women and men seeking by untraditional means avenues into those nether regions of psychogeography where the unknown allures and seduces us toward the strange and puzzling mysteries and obscure sites of imaginative need and poverty begin to topple our consensually accepted reality and reveal to us something else; something ever about to be. These questers after the mind’s dark haunts bring back to us amazing fragments and tales of the infernal paradises of the Unreal that so many have craved, sought after, and quested in pursuit of like unholy seekers of a luminous sect of grail knights of horror and beauty. Some have like Browning’s questor to the ‘Dark Tower’ prepared themselves their whole lives for a glimpse of the impossible kingdoms of darkness and terror, and here and there a few have brought back out of those bleak realms the ruinous beauty of their short tales of the weird, fantastic, and strange; captivating us with glimpses, however blurred and twisted, of those sinister and yet fascinating realms of the Unreal.

The Daemonic Quest

The essential claim of the sublime is that man can, in feeling and in speech, transcend the human. What, if anything, lies beyond the human— God or the gods, the daemon or Nature— is matter for great disagreement. What, if anything, defines the range of the human is scarcely less sure.

—Thomas Weiskel, The Romantic Sublime

Reading Thomas Ligotti’s tales of horror over the past twenty years I’ve felt that pull of the “daemonic imagination” toward some indefinable darkness and enlightenment, a zone of horror and ecstasy hovering in the interstices of the world like flowers of corruption waiting to bloom. For Ligotti as a Master of horror did not seek some Platonic realm transcending time and space where the eternal forms (Ideas) dwell that guide and shape our lives; no, in his quest toward an “enlightenment in darkness” (one he admits he never attained) he sought what I’ll term the daemonic path: a formless path of unrest, driven by the elemental forces at play within the infernal garden of our catastrophic cosmos.  As Stefan Zweig in his study of the daemon in the works of Hölderlin, Kleist, and Nietzsche suggests:

It seems as if nature had implanted into every mind an inalienable part of the primordial chaos, and as if this part were interminably striving — with tense passion — to rejoin the superhuman, suprasensual medium whence it derives. The daemon is the incorporation of that tormenting leaven which impels our being (otherwise quiet and almost inert) towards danger, immoderation, ecstasy, renunciation, and even self-destruction.1

Unlike the ancient sublime of transcendence that sought to move beyond our cosmos into some eternal realm of light as in Dante’s journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise toward a beatific vision, Ligotti’s nightmare quest and visionary tales led him to toward the malevolent powers of darkness of the daemonic abyss. Following Edgar Allen Poe and Howard Phillips Lovecraft, seduced and lured as they were by the impersonal and indifferent cosmos of elemental malevolence, Ligotti would be driven toward a secular rather than religious theophany; one – unlike those sweet visions of God’s majesty with their soteriological visions of redemption and salvation, would lead Ligotti to fall forward, restlessly swerving  into the dark labyrinths of an impenetrable chasm and cosmic abyss of torment and suffering, moving endlessly through the doom-ridden layers of time and space where an unknown and unknowable malevolent presence pervades every singular atom within the ruins of reality.

“These dark sounds are the mystery, the roots thrusting into the fertile loam known to all of us, ignored by all of us, but from which we get what is real in art. . . .”
– Frederico Garcia Lorca

It was the poet, Frederico Garcia Lorca, in reference to the duende – the dark muse of song—daemon, hobgoblin, mischief maker, guardian of “the mystery, the roots fastened in the mire that we all know and all ignore.” Unlike the Muse or Angel, which exist beyond or above the poet, the duende sleeps deep within the poet, and asks to be awakened and wrestled, often at great cost. He would speak of that unfailing instinct that opens within one like a black orchid, or breaks through the mind with those dark sounds that wound. The duende is the dark angel of the blood and emotion, the driving force of that creative action that sings in the throat black sounds: “…the duende has to be roused in the very cells of the blood. … The real struggle is with the duende…. To help us seek the duende there is neither map nor discipline. All one knows is that it burns the blood like powdered glass”.2

This sense of duende is at the heart of most great music and poetry, as is it is of those transformative moments within the genre of horror. It is root and cause of that which stirs below the threshold of consciousness, gathering its sublime forces, generating the dread and terror that reveal to us the darkest truths of our suffering and pain. The nihilistic light that formed us from the beginning breaks over our vein egoistic selves shattering the vessels of our own ignorance sending us into a tailspin of doubt and panic from which there is no escape. As the poet Leopardi would sing of the dark malevolence below the threshold, the duende:

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

William Blake once described the struggle with and against the daemon, the duende as the struggle with the Female Will, the matrix of night, death, the mother, and the sea.

 


  1. Zweig, Stefan. The Struggle with the Daemon: Hölderlin, Kleist, Nietzsche (pp. 11-12). Pushkin Press (July 24, 2012)
  2. Lorca, Federico García(1898-1937) In Search of Duende. New Directions; Second edition (March 30, 2010)

 

*Working on this as a prelude to my book on Thomas Ligotti… will add more as it comes, and will link it from my outline page: here.

Let The Shadows Sing: Flannery O’Connor’s “A Prayer Journal”

Well I’ll be dammed… have to thank Michael Wehunt author of Greener Pastures for turning me onto Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal… I thought I’d read everything of hers and then some…

Already into it (a short journal) and discovered the dark honesty I’ve always trusted:

“Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.”

She always did speak from the shadows… you can feel it in her stories and her longer works. A sense of mystery, shock, and violence that digs deep into you like an old worm gnawing at your innards. Her stories were nightmares come alive and have stayed with me my whole life. The misfits and scoundrels, idiots and savants, the whole lot have about them the doom that lives in the soul of the South like a darkness that spreads and never lets up. I may have left the swamps of Louisiana, and she from Georgia… but the swamps still pervade my dark side like I’m sure the rolling hills of Georgia did hers.

“The Ascrobius Escapade”: Thomas Ligotti and the Uncreated Life

To exile oneself from every earthly country.
—Simone Weil, Decreation

A dummy’s silence is the most soothing silence of all, and his stillness is the perfect stillness of the unborn.
—Thomas Ligotti, Dr. Voke and Mr. Leech

Is it possible not only to erase one’s self – one’s ego, but to erase one’s entire existence ‘as if’ it had never been; as if the accumulated history, the stain of one’s existence on earth had never occurred?

Thomas Ligotti in the first tale of his series of tales within tales IN A FOREIGN TOWN, IN A FOREIGN LAND: HIS SHADOW SHALL RISE TO A HIGHER HOUSE will offer such a strange theory through a self-professed doctor, Klatt, upon a man who not only died but erased his burial site and its very existence:

‘What Ascrobius sought,’ the doctor explained, ‘was not a remedy for his physical disease, not a cure in any usual sense of the word. What he sought was an absolute annulment, not only of his disease but of his entire existence. On rare occasions he even spoke to me,’ the doctor said, ‘about the uncreation of his whole life.’1

All of this started when the said Ascrobius, a recluse and physically grotesque denizen of the northern town on the border of an ill-defined country took ill and died. His body buried outside the town in a graveyard on a hill among former citizens has suddenly vanished along with any signs that it ever existed. Klatt against the unwritten rules of the locals has been ‘meddling’ in anecdotal gossip as to what might have transpired. And upon revealing to the tale teller and others a new bit of information about the details of Ascrobius’s demise he has now implicated all of them in this meddling which will be termed the “Ascrobius’ Escapade”.

As Klatt tells it: ‘You see what has happened,’ Dr Klatt said to us. ‘He has annulled his diseased and nightmarish existence, leaving us with an uncreated grave on our hands.’

After revealing such a meddlesome affair and implicating many of its members the entire town entered into gossip to the point of hysteria, coming to the conclusion that such an unnatural affair could not go without judgement: “Someone would have to atone for that uncreated existence…”.

Well, as expected, our minister of gossip, Klatt offers a solution to the whole affair: a young and unintelligent specimen will need to be sacrificed to the uncreated malevolence that seems to have overtaken the town’s normal lunacy. So a young woman from one Mrs. Glimm’s tavern is sent to the graveyard on the hill at midnight in the cover of complete darkness. Well, one can imagine what transpires, the young woman is found the next day by a nosy and curious group of sober citizens at the very site of the uncreated grave, her body skinned alive and her torso set up as a gravestone. At such horror the citizens demand that she be given a proper burial, but Mrs. Glimm more intelligent than she appears tells them this might not be a good idea and that they should leave things as is. So nothing is done. And, in a few days, the whole affair is forgotten, the terrors of the uncreated gone, and the citizenry back to their normal lives (if you can call it normal!).

But this is not the end of the tale. No. After a few weeks it is discovered that Klatt has gone missing, and that a new resident has taken up living in the former house of Ascrobius. But as our anonymous storyteller informs us,

Afterward all speculation about what had come to be known as the ‘resurrection of the uncreated’ remained in the realm of twilight talk. Yet as I now lie in my bed, listening to the wind and the scraping of bare branches on the roof just above me, I cannot help remaining wide awake with visions of that deformed specter of Ascrobius and pondering upon what unimaginable planes of contemplation it dreams of another act of uncreation, a new and far-reaching effort of great power and more certain permanence. Nor do I welcome the thought that one day someone may notice that a particular house appears to be missing, or absent, from the place it once occupied along the backstreet of a town near the northern border.

Thomas Ligotti in The Conspiracy against the Human Race states his notions concerning the concept of the “uncreated” saying,

For pessimists, life is something that should not be, which means that what they believe should be is the absence of life, nothing, non-being, the emptiness of the uncreated. Anyone who speaks up for life as something that irrefutably should be— that we would not be better off unborn, extinct, or forever lazing in nonexistence— is an optimist. It is all or nothing; one is in or one is out, abstractly speaking. Practically speaking, we have been a race of optimists since the nascency of human consciousness and lean like mad toward the favorable pole.2

The Jains of India believe the soul of each living being is unique and uncreated and has existed since beginningless time.3 Anne Carson the poetess in her essay on Decreation – How Women Like Sappho, Marguerite Porete, and Simone Weil Tell God mentions:

Simone Weil was also a person who wanted to get herself out of the way so as to arrive at God. “The self,” she says in one of her notebooks, “is only a shadow projected by sin and error which blocks God’s light and which I take for a Being.” She had a program for getting the self out of the way which she called “decreation.” This word is a neologism to which she did not give an exact definition nor a consistent spelling. “To undo the creature in us” is one of the ways she describes its aim.4

As another commentator says of Weil: “The method of approaching the sacred Weil calls “decreation,” as a de-incarnation of the person, a method for attaining the impersonal for which solitude is a prerequisite. Decreation is “to make something created pass into the uncreated.” This is distinct from the thing passing into destruction, passing into nothingness.”5 In her poem “Decreation” Simon Weil reiterates this notion:

It is necessary not to be “myself,” still less to be “ourselves.”
The city gives one the feeling of being at home.
We must take the feeling of being at home into exile
We must be rooted in the absence of a place.
To uproot oneself socially and vegetatively.
To exile oneself from every earthly country.
To all that to others, from the outside, is a substitute for decreation and results in unreality
For by uprooting oneself one seeks greater reality.

This sense of uprooting, a decreation of one’s life both physically and spiritually in a process of unmaking, an unraveling into the unreal and entering into the exile from one’s place in the order of creation by an uncreation is hinted at by secular underpinnings of Ligotti’s tales as well. In The Last Feast of Harlequin an assembly is gathered singing of the blessed unborn, the uncreated:

The entire assembly, which had remained speechless until this moment, broke into the most horrendous high-pitched singing that can be imagined. It was a choir of sorrow, of shrieking delirium, and of shame. The cavern rang shrilly with the dissonant, whining chorus. My voice, too, was added to the congregation’s, trying to blend with their maimed music. But my singing could not imitate theirs, having a huskiness unlike their cacophonous keening wail. To keep from exposing myself as an intruder I continued to mouth their words without sound. These words were a revelation of the moody malignancy which until then I had no more than sensed whenever in the presence of these figures. They were singing to the “unborn in paradise,” to the “pure unlived lives.” They sang a dirge for existence, for all its vital forms and seasons. Their ideals were those of darkness, chaos, and a melancholy half-existence consecrated to all the many shapes of death.6

Maybe the unborn like Ascrobius are not those in some mythos of heaven awaiting birth, but are in fact the secret few, the lucky one’s of a dark order of alchemy who have learned the subtle arts of uncreation and diminishment; a slow reversal in the time flows of the inexplicable processes of the universal corruption. Maybe they have opened a hole in the fabric of space-time, an entrance not into some majestic heaven, but rather a passage into the labyrinths of an infernal paradise where the seeds of a new darkness, the uncreated and unborn children of a new promised kingdom of unnatural desires now reside in perfect silence and shadow; their unlived lives shaping and shaped by their sacrifice to the unknown malevolence of all decreation.


  1. Ligotti, Thomas. Teatro Grottesco. Mythos Books LLC; 1st edition (November 30, 2007)
  2. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (p. 47). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.
  3. Nayanar, Prof. A. Chakravarti (2005). Samayasāra of Ācārya Kundakunda. New Delhi: Today & Tomorrows Printer and Publisher.
  4.  Carson, Anne. Decreation – How Women Like Sappho, Marguerite Porete, and Simone Weil Tell God. Common Knowledge Volume 8, Issue 1, Winter 2002 Duke University Press
  5. Some of the more representative works of Simone Weil are her First and Last Notebooks, translated by Richard Rees. Oxford: Oxford university Press, 1970; Gravity and Grace. Putnam, 1952; Oppression and Liberty, London: , New York: Routledge & K. Paul, ? The most representative anthology is The Simone Weil Reader; edited by George A. Panichas. Wakefield, RI: Moyer Bell, 1977.
  6.  Ligotti, Thomas. The Nightmare Factory. Carroll & Graf (June 27, 1996)

One Imagines a Darker Journey…

Quite frankly, it seemed as if each one of us stretched his entire imagination to persuade himself of terrible, irreplaceable losses…

—Hermann Hesse, The Journey to the East

Decided today to reread Herman Hesse’s The Journey to the East. Hesse’s work is part of that idealist Jungianism that seemed to pervade post-WWI literature. Some of the literature would wreak of violence and nihilism, others of the influx of Dada, Surrealism and the fascination with the decadent strains in our literature and heritage. Hesse had tinges of all these aspects woven in with the Romantic traditions… the fascination with the literature of India and its ancient religious worlds.

Sometimes I want to rewrite Hesse’s The Journey to the East with Thomas Ligotti’s lens… a movement into the nightmare regions of the infernal paradise that throughout his tales he offers us fragments and liminal windows onto… yet, for me it would not be of the East as in Hesse, but as in Ligotti’s darker sense of a realm of aesthetic beauty in horror, corruption, and ruin; a blasted cosmos of frightful extravagance and liminal edges of unending terror and rapture…

Here is Hesse’s opening paragraph:

“It was my destiny to join in a great experience. Having had the good fortune to belong to the League, I was permitted to be a participant in a unique journey. What wonder it had at the time! How radiant and comet-like it seemed, and how quickly it has been forgotten and allowed to fall into disrespute. For this reason, I have decided to attempt a short description of this fabulous journey, a journey the like of which had not been attempted since the days of Hugo and mad Roland. Ours have been remarkable times, this period since the World War, troubled and confused, yet, despite this, fertile. I do not think that I am under any illusion about the difficulties of my attempt; they are very great and are not only of a subjective nature, although these alone would be considerable. For not only do I no longer possess the tokens, mementos, documents and diaries relating to the journey, but in the difficult years of misfortune, sickness and deep affliction which have elapsed since then, a large number of my recollections have also vanished. As a result of the buffets of Fate and because of the continual discouragement, my memory as well as my confidence in these earlier vivid recollections have become impaired. But apart from these purely personal notes, I am handicapped because of my former vow to the League; for although this vow permits unrestricted communication of my personal experiences, it forbids any disclosures about the League itself. And even though the League seems to have had no visible existence for a long time and I have not seen any of its members again, no allurement or threat in the world would induce me to break my vow. On the contrary, if today or tomorrow I had to appear before a court-martial and was given the option of dying or divulging the secret of the League, I would joyously seal my vow to the League with death.”


  1. Hermann Hesse. The Journey to the East (Kindle Locations 12-24). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition

Self-Deception, Delusion, and the Denial of Reality

Ajit Vark in a book on Denial entertains from a evolutionary geneticists perspective the old notion of Norman O. Brown and Ernst Becker of the Denial of Death thesis, but also adds another:

[the] contrarian view [that we overcame the barrier to human uniqueness by the mastery of self-deception] could help modify and reinvigorate ongoing debates about the origins of human uniqueness and inter-subjectivity. It could also steer discussions of other uniquely human “universals,” such as the ability to hold false beliefs, existential angst, theories of after-life, religiosity, severity of grieving, importance of death rituals, risk-taking behaviour, panic attacks, suicide and martyrdom. If this logic is correct, many warm-blooded species may have previously achieved complete self-awareness and inter-subjectivity, but then failed to survive because of the extremely negative immediate consequences. Perhaps we should be looking for the mechanisms (or loss of mechanisms) that allow us to delude ourselves and others about reality, even while realizing that both we and others are capable of such delusions and false beliefs.

In many ways this supports Robert Trivers another evolutionary biologist’s notions in The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life. Trivers unflinchingly argues that self-deception evolved in the service of deceit—the better to fool others. We do it for biological reasons—in order to help us survive and procreate. And, yet, Trivers also takes this notion and then applies it to our overreach, the very sociopathic society full of manipulators and deceivers which is the baseline of our Capitalist societies promotes such self-deception to the point that what once helped us as a species to survive and propagate has now become its greatest enemy and is leading us into a species dead end as we deny too much reality for profit and gain at our own peril. Climate denial etc. are at the center of both this success and it’s overreach… a denialism that could cost us our survival and our future along with all those other non-human species of plants and animals and insects.


  1. Ajit Varki. Denial: Self-Deception, False Beliefs, and the Origins of the Human Mind. Twelve (June 4, 2013)
  2.  Robert Trivers. The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life. Basic Books; 1 edition (October 25, 2011)

“The Cosmic Hypnotist”: Hypnosis, Mesmerism, and Gnosticism in Thomas Ligotti

Soon I will put my dreaming in the hands of greater forces, and I’m sure there will be some surprises for both of us. That is one thing which never changes.

—Thomas Ligotti, The Chemyst

This morning when I woke up began tracing the various uses of hypnotism in Thomas Ligotti’s tales. Fascinating how he associated this 19th Century mesmeric art with its double-edged use to blind or reveal.

In an interview with E.M. Angerhuber and Thomas Wagner: Disillusionment Can Be Glamorous Thomas Ligotti is asked if he thinks “cosmic evil is an enhanced or horror, compared to the evil of a single character?” Speaking of his early story “The Chymist” is one of the characters who possesses a “dark power,” but that “power is only an instance of a greater power at large”. Behind this is the power of “Nature” itself Ligotti states, which “tirelessly produces mutations and permutations using human flesh…”. In “The Sect of the Idiot” he’ll describe this power behind the sect of hooded ones – “those freaks who were among those who were hypnotized”:

“For there was a power superseding theirs, a power which they served and from which they merely emanated, something which was beyond the universal hypnosis by virtue of its very mindlessness, its awesome idiocy. These cloaked masters, in turn, partook in some measure of godhood, passively presiding as enlightened zombies over the multitudes of the entranced, that frenetic domain of the human.”

This mindless idiot behind the scenes reminds me of Ligotti’s statements about the Gnostics in the Conspiracy:

“The second of Zapffe’s two central determinations— that our species should belay reproducing itself— immediately brings to mind a cast of characters from theological history known as Gnostics. The Gnostic sect of the Cathari in twelfth-century France were so tenacious in believing the world to be an evil place engendered by an evil deity that its members were offered a dual ultimatum: sexual abstinence or sodomy. (A similar sect in Bulgaria, the Bogomils, became the etymological origin of the term “buggery” for their practice of this mode of erotic release.) Around the same period, the Catholic Church mandated abstinence for its clerics, a directive that did not halt them from betimes giving in to sexual quickening. The raison d’être for this doctrine was the attainment of grace (and in legend was obligatory for those scouring hither and yon for the Holy Grail) rather than an enlightened governance of reproductive plugs and bungholes. With these exceptions, the Church did not counsel its followers to imitate its ascetic founder but sagaciously welcomed them to breed as copiously as they could.”

Knowing that Ligotti has read deeply in these ancient heterodoxies underpins his use and parodic inversion of the soteriological allegories of these sects towards his own ends. One thinks of the case of Arthur Emerson in “The Prodigy of Dreams” associating it with an active power to enter other zones of being:

“Only on rare occasions could he enter these unseen spaces, and always unexpectedly. A striking experience of this kind took place in his childhood years and involved a previous generation of swans which he had paused one summer afternoon to contemplate from a knoll by the lake. Perhaps their smooth drifting and gliding upon the water had induced in him something like a hypnotic state. The ultimate effect, however, was not the serene catatonia of hypnosis, but a whirling flight through a glittering threshold which opened within the air itself, propelling him into a kaleidoscopic universe where space consisted only of multi-colored and ever-changing currents, as of wind or water, and where time did not exist.”

This sense of “whirling flight” as compared to the “serene catatonia” of the mesmerizer’s variety of hypnotic effect. One remembers the hypnotist psychologist in “Dream of a Manikin” who describes Mrs. Locher’s dreams under hypnosis. Here the power of the deity of dream “splintering and scarring itself to relieve its cosmic ennui,” or the “solipsistic dream deity commanding all it sees, all of which is only itself,” the implications of which “suggest the basic horror and disgusting unreality of its implications.”

So many of these variations of the dark god of dreams, hypnotism, and unreality crop up throughout various stories describing the notion of a malevolent power in Nature supervening in a sadomasochistic drama of manipulation, and at the same time allowing certain favored ones to awaken from the hypnosis and enter the infernal paradise of this entity’s realm unbidden.

There is Victor Kierion in “Vastarien” whose infernal book unlocks the keys to this dream kingdom of nightmares: “the hypnotic episodes of the little book; each night, as he dreamed, he carried out shapeless expeditions into its fantastic topography. To all appearances it seemed he had discovered the summit or abyss of the unreal, that paradise of exhaustion, confusion, and debris where reality ends and where one may dwell among its ruins.”

More to think through… Year’s ago reading Angus Fletcher’s great work on Allegory and the ancient tension between the various levels of exegesis and commentary one realizes that Ligotti’s art is much more subtle than many might know or understand. On the surface each story seems to plot a basic horror scenario, a nightmare that can be understood at the base level of common sense portrayal. But if one takes a more rigorous approach one discovers layers of structure and dimensions within his work that lead to more extensive subsurface meanings and connections leading outwardly to philosophy, religion, ethics, and other subtle implications.

Just more grist for the mill…

A Tale of Chicken and Horror; or, How I Became a Weird Writer

Jim Stark: I don’t know what to do anymore. Except maybe die.

—James Dean, Rebel Without a Cause

Maybe my fascination with the fantastic, weird, and horrible began on a dark night in 1954 when my family was coming home from a weekend in Lubbock, TX. Of course I was too young to remember what was happening (unless my body itself carries the trauma in some deep place of the subliminal physical systems). I was only informed of it years after…

At that time there was a strange game of life and death that foolish young teenagers seemed to relish… a movie was made of this later on – Rebel Without A Cause, starring James Dean. The game was Chicken… yet, unlike the movie my family was suddenly thrust into a real life situation of three young punks who’d decided to run their truck head-on into a random car on a road just outside Andrews, TX – a road in which it would be next to impossible to turn off into the fields because of deep ravines, and / or cross the median because of trees planted by the Texas Highway Department.

Needless to say my father tried his best to swerve and miss the truck barreling into our old Chevy sedan. It didn’t work, and our car was demolished, my Mom suffered a broken neck and legs crushed, my Sis almost died suffocating under the back seat as it flipped up and tumbled over her (she was a baby), and I was thrown across the back seat in a swirl of tumbling glass and metal breaking my arms, legs, and pelvis unable to walk for years. My Dad luckily did not go unconscious, and with his ribs crushed by the steering wheel, and his head damaged severely by rocketing through the front windshield he pulled us all out of the vehicle before it blew up after the engine started a fire and the gas finally burst… then he waited for help. Once it came he passed out… We all woke in the hospital and would remain there for months.

The three punks has used an old mattress and were unharmed… I want go into the bitter details afterword… and the years of recovery. Only that this traumatic even would haunt me as I grew up… one of my legs is shorter than the other because of it so that I’ve had spinal issues and other problems that relate even now to many of my problems in old age… but, hey, it’s life and not a dam thing you can do about it but learn to laugh…

Yet, it was this unlikely event that made me question later on about fate and determinism,  chance and necessity, coincidence and synchronicity, along with all the other strange reasons why it was my family suddenly plunged into this horror in a singular strange moment right out of the twilight zone of weirdness… maybe my whole philosophical outlook on life was generated in that moment. Who knows? All I know it was from the moment I became fully aware of this event I realized the world is not what it seems… and is much more sinister than most of us would like to believe.

I’ve often wondered at what point did we enter an alternate world, a different time-line, a realm of some strange and nefarious weirdness that left us marooned in a place that was not our place, a world that was not our world. I still don’t know, and yet something in me does.

Gnostic Inversion: Navigating the “Mundus Imaginalis”

One could say I’m an inverted Gnostic of sorts, except that in my own view the ancient Gnostic’s literalized or ontologized their perceptions and thought of the Real. Following Plato they sought to escape this ‘world’ – the literal universe of evil as they termed it, whereas for me there is no transcension of this realm: this is it, there isn’t any supernal paradise of light sitting on the other side of that great abyss of darkness and night; and yet, what we discover is not a literal dichotomy or separation as in Plato’s two-worlds theory of a supernal eternal realm of Ideas and a mundane and evil realm of delusion, but rather it is our Mind’s, our Brains that have locked us into a perception of the world controlled by political, social, cultural, religious, and philosophical malfeasance. The world in-itself is not evil, what is evil is the dominion of our minds and hearts under regimes of power in high places that have constructed an Iron Prison of thought and feeling to trap us and suck our desires dry for their own sustenance and pleasure.

It is against the rulers of this dark prison world of mind, the Oligarchs, Plutocrats, philosophical and religious overlords of our ideological realms of acceptable thought and truth, spin doctors of political and social crapology, we fight and resist in this new gnosis. We seek to exit this system of lies, bullshit, and deceit even as we unravel and destroy its symbolic hold over our lives. For years I struggled against the separation of religious and secular forms that entrap us to false infinities: to a metaphysics of defeat and despair, pessimism and doom. Most of the world is oriented to trap us in a sense of despair and doom to make us dependent and needy, so that we will allow the State to supervene in our lives and offer assistance and numbing drugs, pharmaceuticals, therapies, etc. to realign us to its prison system and put us back asleep, provide us a perfect road to oblivion becoming in the process robotically compliant to the work and labour of creating surplus value for the wealthy and powerful. What these fat cat wannabee Archons of bullshit seek above all is a hypernormalised society of stupids they can suck dry for their own sadomasochistic pleasures… who the hell wants that?

It’s time to exit the zoo of this dark world, make our way toward a fucking real planet where people can learn to give a shit again about themselves and others, stop pounding each other with bombs and death; stop hustling the innocent and needy migrants into cages; stop colluding with a system of Death that has made us all into zombie maniacs…

Gnostic Inversion: From Literal to Figurative Breakout

People tend to confuse my use of the ancient Gnostic mythos with its literal religious extremism of ascetic or libertine valences.

I tend to agree with many fantastic, weird, and horror tale writers that there is as Ibn Arabi once suggested an ‘Mundus Imaginalis’ – a site of no site outside our brains filtering processes where our language and thought perceive the traces of an imaginative realm not bound by our human all too human prison of consciousness. Not unlike modern quantum physics that models these invisible processes beyond the threshold of our ability to know with symbolic relations (i.e., in the case of physics with mathematic models that then may take decades to prove, etc.). It’s this in-between realm between what we perceive to be and what ‘is’ that what Zizek-Lacan term the Real is confronted – any realism is confronted by what resists us rather than by any logic or systematic effort on our part to construct it. The Real is that which is invisible to our empirical relations to the world accept as it impinges on those factual facticities.

Mundus Imaginalis

Henri Corbin (1903 – 1978) a Sufi scholar coined the term “Mundus Imaginalis” to explain to Westerners the Sufi account of a territory that exists between the physical, sensory world and the spirit world (which Plato saw as consisting of ideal forms, but which some conceptualize as formless). This intermediate world has its own consistent topography, but is also constantly influenced and shaped by the physical and the spiritual worlds.

In my own account there is no Platonic world of forms, Ideas; there is as dialectical materialism suggests the appearance of appearance in which form and formless interject into each other influences which are neither the one or the other but commingle in this intermediate realm to produce something of a Third Relation. Ideas (forms) arise with appearances as in quantum mechanics particles arise and vanish contiguously.

At the border of consciousness we become entangled with what is not-conscious (i.e., what our brain filters out and we cannot thereby perceive as ‘real’). It’s on this border in-between that we commingle with the Outside in the ‘Mundus Imaginalis’ influenced by and influencing each other.

Corbin also used the term “active imagination,” which he may have got from Jung, or may have developed simultaneously. It is a method of perception and exploration that is supposed to straddle the physical world and the Mundus Imaginalis, allowing interplay between them. That our brains through evolutionary processes have closed the door on most of what is, giving us only what we need to survive and propagate we struggle to understand the forces, things, entities outside that filter. It’s the negotiation between form and formlessness, the navigation of the Outside which resists us; this strange realm of intermediation in which reality as it is against the reality we know and perceive that structures the Real.

Against any naïve realism the current crop of speculative realists suggest that the world is not as it seems, but is much more non-human than we can even imagine. We’ve allowed our all-too-centered human concerns for survival and propagation to bind us to the genetic codes and filters of our brain’s basic and integral function as an evolutionary process. In our own time this is being questioned, and doors onto advancing out of and past our own minimalistic brain functions through external process of self-fabrication and self-evolutionary processes of experimentation may one day take us far beyond the embedded state of our physical being as humans. What David Roden in his disconnection thesis projects through every widening exits of Wide Humans into the singularity of some posthuman other (of which we cannot know or speak at present).

To me the use of Gnostic mythos as philosophical allegory rather than a literalist belief in actual entities beyond our perception. I use it as a tool to unlock our ideological constructs and mental prisons that those in power seek to use to control society. Whatever the religious use of it was is beyond me, I use horror and the weird as tools to embrace an alternative vision; and, although it appears to accept the dictum of a malevolence behind the curtain so to speak, this should not in my mind be taken ‘literally’, but figuratively as a trope of the mind’s quest to break through the ideological prison or Matrix we are currently trapped in.

Gnostic Novels and Horror

Lawrence Durrell is one of the most overt Gnostic writers in mainstream literature, both is Alexandria Quartet and his later, post-war The Avignon Quintet he used major themes from this heterodox realms of gnosis. As in this statement from Monsieur, or The Prince of Darkness:.

Man is in a trap … and goodness avails him nothing in the new dispensation. There is nobody now to care one way or the other. Good and evil, pessimism and optimism–are a question of blood group, not angelic disposition. Whoever it was that used to heed us and care for us, who had concern for our fate and the world’s, has been replaced by another who glories in our servitude to matter, and to the basest part of our own natures.
–LAWRENCE DURRELL, Monsieur, or The Prince of Darkness

A few authors whose works present a Gnostic mythos:

John Crowley’s Aegypt Cycle
Malcom Lowery’s Under the Volcano
Doris Lessing’s Shikasta novels
David Lindsey’s A Voyage to Arcturus
Cormac McCarthy’s dark Southern Gothic and his Western Lands works
Collen Clements five-volume Biography of Lucifer
Beyond that one can find it used either overtly or in parody/gest in many horror writers…

Many of the horror writers have taken a left-hand path or Luciferian gnosis by way of the negative ecstasy of infernal paradises etc. into their works, inverting the underlying a-cosmic schemes of the actual historic Gnostics for a more secular and materialist mysticism of the immanent-transcendence variety (horizontal rather than vertical). Following in the footsteps of those 19th Century fabricators of the occult, satanic, and decadent late romanticism these writers would offer a vision not of some supernal city of light and peace, but rather a dark hinterland of cosmic night described by John Doe in Thomas Ligotti’s The Frolic:

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

This sense of finding in the sewers of nightmarish wastelands and deliriums of the backwater slums of the universal decay a world of awe and wonder filled with the dark pleasures of a sadomasochistic cosmos. This is the kenoma or vastation of he Luciferian nightmare realm of paradise’s inferno…

Though it has gone largely unrecognized in the critical literature on Bataille, dream and the unconscious are intimately related to the sacred in Bataille’s thought. Understanding this connection requires an account of Bataille’s conception of the sacred as an ambivalent force that, when accessed through sacrificial acts, engenders an ecstatic loss of self. Th is loss of self corresponds with Bataille’s idiosyncratic notion of sovereignty, which is related to an escape from the “servile” world of instrumental reason—the sphere of the profane. (Jeremy Biles, Negative Ecstasies)

It’s this need for self-sacrificial loss of self in the ecstasy of horror that seems most poignant in Ligotti’s oeuvre as well. The horror of consciousness is central to his horror, and the various angels of approach to the annihilation of our ego-based relations seems central to many of the themes in Ligotti’s tales.

One feels it in Ligotti’s The Shadow at the Bottom of the World:

In sleep we were consumed by the feverish life of the earth, cast among a ripe, fairly rotting world of strange growth and transformation. We took a place within a darkly flourishing landscape where even the air was ripened into ruddy hues and everything wore the wrinkled grimace of decay, the mottled complexion of old flesh. The face of the land itself was knotted with so many other faces, ones that were corrupted by vile impulses. Grotesque expressions were molding themselves into the darkish grooves of ancient bark and the whorls of withered leaf; pulpy, misshapen features peered out of damp furrows; and the crisp skin of stalks and dead seeds split into a multitude of crooked smiles. All was a freakish mask painted with russet, rashy colors—colors that bled with a virulent intensity, so rich and vibrant that things trembled with their own ripeness. But despite this gross palpability, there remained something spectral at the heart of these dreams. It moved in shadow, a presence that was in the world of solid forms but not of it.

 

Michel de Ghelderode: Spells & Vanity

 

How could we bear the weight and sheer depth of works and masterpieces, if to their texture certain impertinent and delicious minds had not added the fringes of subtle scorn and ready ironies? And how could we endure the codes, the customs, the paragraphs of the heart which inertia and propriety have superimposed upon the futile and intelligent vices, if it were not for those playful beings whose refinement puts them at once at the apex and in the margin of society?

—Emile Cioran, A Short History of Decay

From one of the tales in Michel de Ghelderode, Sortilèges et autres contes crépusculaires (Spells):

“As I was leaving the Beguinage one evening, the janitor approached me and asked me mischievously if I was happy with my companion. I replied that yes, staying to look at the little April stars in the poplars. Daniel still asking me why I sighed, I was not afraid to admit that I would have liked to be Pilatus, in eternal silence; a forgotten man of men, who knows how to write wonderfully and who never writes, knowing that everything is vanity.”

That last line I love… “a forgotten man of men, who knows how to write wonderfully and who never writes, knowing that everything is vanity.” For long I felt that same despair wandering through many libraries, looking at the tens of thousands (not counting the millions of bits in Library of Congress) of books, journals, etc. published each year, realizing there is already too much for any one human to read much less understand. It’s as if the vast accumulation of capitalist culture has ended in the labyrinth of the library as a vast hyper-chaos (Meillassoux) in which the only guide is a thin scarlet thread from Ariadne’s spindle; and, even it has fallen into dust in the vast maze of endless books and aisles.

I’ve read more than my share of books, pondered the supposed wisdom of the ages and realize that sense of the vanity of vanities. A sense that none of all those great books has offered us a solution to the ills of the human condition, and that in our late age it is far too late to believe books being published now can begin to change humans from their destructive self-annihilation. It would be nice to believe that we would wake up and realize that the earth is indifferent to our mistakes, our errors; but, the truth is she is not, and she has a surprise for us coming: death by stupidity in not realizing that the climate event we are in the midst of is going to change everything. Whether we survive it or not the world will be a realm of ruins and more of a hellish paradise than an Eden.

I will be dust before it happens, but feel a sense of apprehension and doom for all the innocents who have yet to be born who will inherit the ruins of our late capitalist culture and its dark heritage.

The Outside That Will Not Think

This affords us a significant insight into the manic disposition: although the latter is invariably oriented toward excessive dealings, this excess can take the form of an overwhelming focus on the miniscule or the indistinct, the slenderest of turns, the slightest phenomenon rising over the hills, a breath of fugitive light that should not even be there.

—Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh, Omnicide

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

My latest Comic-Horror Short Story Published in The Siren’s Call

Capture

My latest comic-horror story just published in The Siren’s Call: The Immortalist

You can download (free!) the ezine version from the site with some other great authors as well. The 45th issue of The Sirens Call eZine features eighty pieces of dark fiction and horror prose from seventy different authors and poets. It also features an interview with, and twelve monster/creature images by, our featured artist, NOISTROMO. This month’s spot-light author, Tim Meyer, schools us on why ‘Fear Is Fun’ and also offers an excerpt from his short novel, The Switch House!

The Impossible Erasure of Self

In his discussion of Roland Torpor’s horror novella, The Tenant, Thomas Ligotti will compare the division of Insider/Outsider. The Insider believes herself to be substantial and of value, and has the right to impose their egotistical power over all those they deem Outsider’s. The main character of this novella Trelkovsky has moved into an apartment just vacated by a dying woman, and over the course of the tale is hounded by the daemonic citizens of a private hell who live in the apartment building and believe him, unlike themselves to be no one and nothing. Ligotti describes this feeling of being an Outsider:

“Anyone who is marked as being outside of the group is fair game for those who would assert their reality over all others. Yet they, too, are nobodies. If they were not, their persecutions would not be required: They could pass their lives with a sure mindfulness of their substance and value. But as any good Buddhist … could tell you, human beings have no more substance and value than anything else on earth. The incapacity to repose alongside both the mountains and the mold of this planet is the fountainhead of the torments we wreak on one another. As long as we deny a person or group the claim to be as right and as real as we are, so long may we hold this dreamlike claim for ourselves alone. And it is the duty of everyone to inculcate a sense of being empty of substance and value in those who are not emulations of them.”1

Colin Wilson once described the Outsider as a social problem, a “hole-in-corner” man. Describing the anti-hero of Henre Barbusse’s L’enfer he says of the Outsider:

He has ‘no genius, no mission to fulfil, no remarkable feelings to bestow. I have nothing and I deserve nothing. Yet in spite of it, I desire some sort of recompense.’ Religion…he doesn’t care for it. ‘As to philosophic discussions, they seem to me altogether meaningless. Nothing can be tested, nothing verified. Truth—what do they mean by it?’ His thoughts range vaguely from a past love affair and its physical pleasures, to death: ‘Death, that is the most important of all ideas.’2

The ancient Gnostic’s of certain sects would through a form of negative devaluation reverse Socrates’ credo of “Know Thyself”, and begin a process of unnaming, of slowly and methodically erasing all the names within oneself that others seemed to attach to one’s Self as substantive and having value. This was the central dictum of those ascetic and libertine creatures of the gnosis: a knowledge not of what is, nor of what is not; but rather of the nameless and unknown that remains when all names have been erased. This emptiness – a vastation of horror and awareness not of being or self, but of that silence that is greater than all thought of self or value.

In his Theory of Religion Bataille once stated of this impossibility:

“Everything invites one to drop the substance for the shadow, to forsake the open and impersonal movement of thought for the isolated opinion. Of course the isolated opinion is also the shortest means of revealing what the assemblage essentially is-the impossible. But it has this deep meaning only if it is not conscious of the fact. This powerlessness defines an apex of possibility, or at least, awareness of the impossibility opens consciousness to all that is possible for it to think. In this gathering place, where violence is rife, at the boundary of that which escapes cohesion, he who realizes cohesion realizes that there is no longer any room for him.”3


  1. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (p. 198). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Wilson, Colin. The Outsider (Kindle Locations 250-256). Diversion Books. Kindle Edition.
  3.  Georges, Bataille. Theory of Religion. Zone Books (June 29, 1992)

 

The Macabrist: The Infernal Paradise of Thomas Ligotti

Over a period of years the works of Thomas Ligotti have pervaded my thought and life. I’ve decided to spend time writing on the art and philosophy of Ligotti in a new book, one that I will hopefully finish by the end of fall. Not sure when it will be published, but I’ll keep you informed. I may not be as active on the site as I’ve been but will still pop my head up from time to time as I progress.

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The Satirical Jibes of Thomas Ligotti: On The Complainer

Re-reading Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror in the section The Cult of Grinning Martyrs he takes up in reversal the optimist’s dissatisfaction with pessimistic complainers. It’s as if Ligotti has imagined an Optimist, – happy-go-lucky Reader, coming upon his work for the first time, and having read up to this point in the book; and, having read thus far decided enough is enough! “Mr. Ligotti, I dare you! What is all this gibberish about, this negation of everything I hold dear! I dare you, you are the most miserable creature I’ve ever come across. All this complaining, all this bellyaching about Life! Let me tell you something…” Then he proceeds to do just that! One must understand the subtle humor of this satirical jibe to appreciate Ligotti’s irony and scorn of Optimism (long quote):

In the workaday world, complainers will not go far. When someone asks how you are doing, you had better be wise enough to reply, “I can’t complain.” If you do complain, even justifiably, people will stop asking how you are doing. Complaining will not help you succeed and influence people. You can complain to your physician or psychiatrist because they are paid to hear you complain. But you cannot complain to your boss or your friends, if you have any. You will soon be dismissed from your job and dropped from the social register. Then you will be left alone with your complaints and no one to listen to them. Perhaps then the message will sink into your head: If you do not feel good enough for long enough, you should act as if you do and even think as if you do. That is the way to get yourself to feel good enough for long enough and stop you from complaining for good, as any self-improvement book can affirm. But should you not improve, someone must assume the blame. And that someone will be you. This is monumentally so if you are a pessimist or a depressive. Should you conclude that life is objectionable or that nothing matters— do not waste our time with your nonsense. We are on our way to the future, and the philosophically disheartening or the emotionally impaired are not going to hinder our progress. If you cannot say something positive, or at least equivocal, keep it to yourself. Pessimists and depressives need not apply for a position in the enterprise of life. You have two choices: Start thinking the way God and your society want you to think or be forsaken by all. The decision is yours, since you are a free agent who can choose to rejoin our fabricated world or stubbornly insist on … what? That we should mollycoddle non-positive thinkers like you or rethink how the whole world transacts its business? That we should start over from scratch? Or that we should go extinct? Try to be realistic. We did the best we could with the tools we had. After all, we are only human, as we like to say. Our world may not be in accord with nature’s way, but it did develop organically according to our consciousness, which delivered us to a lofty prominence over the Creation. The whole thing just took on a life of its own, and nothing is going to stop it anytime soon. There can be no starting over and no going back. No major readjustments are up for a vote. And no melancholic head-case is going to bad-mouth our catastrophe. The universe was created by the Creator, damn it. We live in a country we love and that loves us back. We have families and friends and jobs that make it all worthwhile. We are somebodies, not a bunch of nobodies without names or numbers or retirement plans. None of this is going to be overhauled by a thought criminal who contends that the world is not doubleplusgood and never will be. Our lives may not be unflawed— that would deny us a better future to work toward— but if this charade is good enough for us, then it should be good enough for you. So if you cannot get your mind right, try walking away. You will find no place to go and no one who will have you. You will find only the same old trap the world over. Lighten up or leave us alone. You will never get us to give up our hopes. You will never get us to wake up from our dreams. We are not contradictory beings whose continuance only worsens our plight as mutants who embody the contorted logic of a paradox. Such opinions will not be accredited by institutions of authority or by the middling run of humanity. To lay it on the line, whatever thoughts may enter your chemically imbalanced brain are invalid, inauthentic, or whatever dismissive term we care to hang on you, who are only “one of those people.” So start pretending that you feel good enough for long enough, stop your complaining, and get back in line. If you are not as strong as Samson— that no-good suicide and slaughterer of Philistines— then get loaded to the gills and return to the trap. Keep your medicine cabinet and your liquor cabinet well stocked, just like the rest of us. Come on and join the party. No pessimists or depressives invited. Do you think we are morons? We know all about those complaints of yours. The only difference is that we have sense enough and feel good enough for long enough not to speak of them. Keep your powder dry and your brains blocked. Our shibboleth: “Up the Conspiracy and down with Consciousness.”


  1. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (pp. 172-174). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.

Nada


Like the Soul, the Self may one day disappear from sight, laughed into non-existence from sheer apathy and derision. That the Self like the Soul is not some objective, tangible thing one can point too, but is rather defined by language, by that strange “I” of which nothing can be proven or disproven; only more words upon words in an endless arc of deconstructive knots and rhizomes that can neither be unstrung like Gordian’s knots; nor wistfully restored to the honeyed web of holes that spin us into our imagined lives. We are nothings who have believed ourselves to be somethings, so that the old adage of “Why something rather than nothing?” can be answered: Nothing is nothing is nothing… or as Hemingway pondering the same said:

“Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Clean Well Lighted Place

Redemption by Death: On Becoming Android


Reading through Ligotti, Mainlander, and other extreme pessimists I’m beginning to see a pattern: each seems to see pain and suffering in the same sense as the Stoic, Buddhist, and negative apophatic Christian mystic. If true, and if the cessation of pain and suffering by annihilation of one’s physical being seems to be the goal to which it tends, then maybe there is a strange form of overcoming it in the coming age, a new kind of redemption by death (Mainlander); yet, with a twist not conceived of by any pessimist before: becoming machinic, becoming dead-while-alive in being without pain or suffering through a form of horizontal immanence through mutation from organic to machinic phylums.

As Beiser says of Mainlander:

It is in this context that we should understand Mainländer’s paradoxical doctrine of the death wish. The inner striving of the will is for death because it is only in death that we find true happiness, which is the highest good for every human being. Such happiness resides in complete tranquillity and peace, which comes only with death, the utter nothingness of annihilation. If Mainlӓnder describes life as a means toward death that is because death promises what life really wants: tranquillity and peace.1

Yet, is not becoming other, becoming machine – a machinic existence that extinguishes pain and suffering by other means than organic systems present the truly logical conclusion to pessimism? For as Beiser suggests,

Mainländer writes there that the mission of his philosophy is self-emancipation, the liberation of humanity from its own self-imposed bondage. The history of the world is the story of this self-emancipation, Mainlӓnder tells us. In its path towards self-liberation, humanity goes through the stages of polytheism, monotheism and atheism; in this process humanity learns to be more self-critical and self-conscious of its own powers; it sees how it has enslaved itself to entities of its own making; and so it grows in autonomy, its power to lead life according to its own self-conscious goals and ideals. Humanity is at present at the end of the stage of pantheism, the last stage of monotheism, which appears either in a dynamic (Hegel) or a static (Schopenhauer) form. Now, as humanity nears the final stage, the individual demands the restoration of his rights, the repossession of the powers that he once squandered on heaven. (209)

Mainländer holds the opinion that life is irredeemable suffering and that redemption lies only in leaving it. Isn’t what we’ve sought all this time is emancipation from pain and suffering? And is not the horizontal (earthward) rather than vertical (heavenward) transcendence of physical being into machinic being by a migration of our intelligence a break with the organic conception of the human, and a true reconciliation with the inhuman core of our existence? To die to organic necessity and open ourselves to a new more profound anorganic necessity on becoming machinic intelligences?

Till the day of his suicide Mainländer’s pessimism divided him utterly from the neo-Hegelians. He finds their optimism naïve. For him the chief sources of suffering lie in existence itself; even in the best state, and even with the greatest progress of the sciences, the main forms of suffering will remain. There will always be the traumas and troubles of birth, sickness, age and death. (210) But that’s just it, he did not know what we know, he had not been presented with any alternative to this organic cycle of birth, growth, maturity, old age, and death. But we have, we have in out age been tempted, seduced toward various forms of transhuman, posthuman, and inhuman modes of being that offer exit from the human organic becoming systems of decay, ruin, pain, and suffering. None of them are practical, and the sciences have yet to overcome the problems surrounding such notions, but that is not the point: these notions and conceptions are driving the sciences in directions that Mainlander in his fusion of ancient though with the sciences of his day would have approved of if he’d known.

Of course many will see in this just fantasy, another loop in the dream quest of our postmodern temperament toward the posthuman inhuman matrix of ideas. And, yet, what if…. it were true?

What’s funny about Mainländer is that throughout his peregrinations he fought against Schopenhauer’s universalist notion of a Cosmic Will, and vied instead for a nominalist injunction believing there were only particular will’s rather than one great One living through us. But in the end he came up with his own version of Schopenhauer’s Universalist claims of a Great Will – just not the will-to-live, but rather the will-to-death. In his mythic narrative at the end of his Philosophy of Redemption he describes how God after all his knowledge came to the macabre conclusion that his very existence was a horror even to himself, and yet he was unable to end it in one fell swoop. Instead he devised a plan, with the creation-catastrophe of the Universe he began the process of dying-unto-death-through-the-particular, so that the will to annihilation at the core of our being is in fact the working of this dead God’s will to annihilation. As Beiser notes,

“We long to die, and we are indeed dying, because God wanted to die and he is still dying within us. Mainländer sees this process of cosmic death taking place all throughout nature, in both the organic and inorganic realms, and he goes into great detail about how it takes place everywhere in the universe.” …

“Although Mainländer has in general little sympathy for the teleological conception of nature, it is remarkable that he still attributes a strange kind of purposiveness to everything in nature: namely, the striving toward self-destruction and death.”

“It is hard to know what to make of Mainländer’s cosmology of death. If we take his regulative guidelines seriously, then we cannot deem it a conjecture or hypothesis; rather, we have to regard it as a fiction, treating it only as if it were true. We do best, then, to take it simply as mythology, as a story meant to replace the religious myths of the past. The justification of such a myth is purely pragmatic: it gives us the power to face death because we imagine ourselves moving inevitably towards it.”

One could see in this Mainländer’s subtle Christianization of a universe of death as the outcome of the Death of God leading to an inverted Apocalypse or Day of Judgment which would annihilate the goats and sheep alike. 🙂 One almost smiles at such a strange philosophy, and yet underlying it is the pessimists extreme radicality. A religious nihilism to the nth degree zero, a redemption unto death rather than eternal life. Seems he was a failed Christian seeking a new Gospel of Death against Life, one in which the Book of Life would be burned in the end, erasing both worshipers and God alike from the memory of existence.

(Of course I’m toying with ideas that at present are just that: ideas to be toyed with, rather than literalisms of a mad hatter!)


  1. Beiser, Frederick C.. Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900 (p. 209). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

A Rare Find: Weird Tale Author – Hans Henny Jahnn

Oh, a rare find…

Hans Henny Jahnn a highly controversial writer from Germany, especially because of his drastically cross-border literary depictions of sexuality and violence. According to the social history of German literature (1981), he is one of the “great productive outsiders of the [20th] century”.

I am reading David Peak’s The Spectacle of the Void which offers his reading of horror from a philosophical perspective using current trends such as Speculative Realism and other forms. I want go into that here. He describes a tale by German author Hans Henny Jahnn. Luckily found a couple of his works translated in English: The Living Are Few, The Dead Are Many – Three shorter stories, “Kebad Kenya”, “Sassanad King”, and “A Master Selects his Servant”; and the novella “The Night of Lead”. Peak describes his novella The Night of Lead as a “work singularly obsessed with the overlap of death and sexuality, eroticism and decay…”, a man who has learned to embrace the horror reality, by merging with existence in the present, by accepting being with no past and no future, suspended in the void, he has performed a true act of katabasis. (Peak, 76)

I think what piqued my interest is his anti-natalist and being one of the first to offer an attack on the anthropocentric world view. His thought seems in many ways close to Thomas Ligotti which I’ll need to pursue once I get ahold of these works. His greatest work is a three-volume trilogy Rivers without Borders, but has yet to be translated… seems to be a sadomasochistic recursion to as the wiki entry has it,

Jahnn seems to have been close to the Gnostic mythos viewing humans as a “catastrophe-creation,” an error that should be quickly stamped out. Ulrich Greiner describes the structural features of his literary work in 1994 in TIME for the author’s 100th birthday under the ironically meant heading The Seven Deadly Sins of Hans Henny Jahnn:

It is based on a “reduction of man” on the biological. Jahnn sees man as part of nature, which is not above the animal, but rather how this pain feels. For Jahnn, life is a “universal and permanent pain” that animals endure,” while man inflicts pain in a planned and prudent manner: himself and his like, the animals and the whole of nature. Slaughterhouse and war are the two sides of an incomprehensible will to destroy life.” For Greiner, Jahnn’s work is a “protest against the anthropocentric world view”.

Determining “for the whole Jahnn’s work is the central idea of an anti-Christian creation mythology”, which is influenced by the Old Babylonian Gilgamesh epic and “ontogenetically regarded as pre-Oedipal,” according to the social history of the German Literature (1981). A “strictly anti-civilizational position” manifests itself in it by means of the following motif complexes: anarchic, nature-religious myths (versus Christian tradition), ancient Egyptian death mythologies (versus German tradition of Hellenism), “elementary attachment of man to his carnality, in which drive, sacramentality and barbarism are fused” (versus humanistic human image), archaic-timeless landscapes in which man, animal and nature live in unresolved unity (versus bourgeois Enlightenment-based, progress-oriented civilization).

A customer on Amazon states” it is rather easy to compare a variety of authors to Kafka. Queasy interior spaces, discussions whose meanings explode through failed communication, a constant uprooting of linear movement. This is why we pull so many books from the shelves, old and new, to see Prague’s weaver of strange fables as a point of reference. Descending from K, we then find authors such as Blanchot and Bataille, who show this influence but swim into modes even murkier and more transgressive. With Blanchot, I refer not simply to more popular works like Death Sentence, but also the shorter parables to be found in the collection Vicious Circles. Here we do not simply encounter discomfort, impossible exchanges, and dreamlike states, but meet a philosophical obsession with dying head on. Of course the same can be said for Bataille, whose Story of the Eye, Blue of Noon, and My Mother/Madame Edwarda/The Dead Man, are texts of sexual subversion somehow equally preoccupied with the grave.”

Thomas Ligotti on Peter Wessel Zapffe (1899– 1990)

Why did I not perish at birth; why did I not die as I came from the womb?  —The Book of Job

All things are full of weariness… —Kohelet: Ecclesiastes

For Thomas Ligotti what separates and divides us as humans from each other is our acceptance or rejection of life’s value: our awareness of being alive, of knowing that we know; this division puts those who affirm life’s value in the category of optimists, while those who counter such affirmation with a negative “No” are placed in the category of uncompromising pessimism. In the white heat of discovery one imagines Ligotti – a great reader of books – coming on the Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe’s (1899– 1990) essay “The Last Messiah” (1933) for the first time, realizing that here, just here a man had spoken what Ligotti himself had thought and believed for quite a long time; that human existence is a tragedy, and that consciousness is at the core of this tragic world. In this essay as Ligotti says of this eloquent work: “Zapffe elucidated why he saw human existence as a tragedy.”1

The notion as to why humans over eons of time became conscious beings, self-aware nothings – as it ’twere, has been investigated by the ancient Greeks, the early Buddhists, and every thinker one can imagine up through our current crop of cognitive psychologists, philosophers of mind, and neuroscientists. The quarrels over what consciousness is may never have an end, and yet that we are aware of our awareness – this subtle loop of mirrored duplicity, of recognition and dismay at being both in and outside the game of life has been at the heart of human misery from its beginning. As Zapffe says (quoted by Ligotti):

A breach in the very unity of life, a biological paradox, an abomination, an absurdity, an exaggeration of disastrous nature. Life had overshot its target, blowing itself apart. A species had been armed too heavily— by spirit made almighty without, but equally a menace to its own well-being. Its weapon was like a sword without hilt or plate, a two-edged blade cleaving everything; but he who is to wield it must grasp the blade and turn one edge toward himself. (22)

This dark breach in the world, a gap between knowing and known, the self-lacerating power of negation that distances us from the world and our selves even now causes consternation in the heart of many humans who are dismayed at being alive, and of knowing that they are alive. As Ligotti will ask, “Could there be anything to this pessimistic verbiage, this tirade against the evolution of consciousness?”

Against the pessimistic worldview of Zapffe Ligotti will offer us the optimist’s challenge by way of Nicholas Humphrey in an interview,

Consciousness— phenomenal experience— seems in many ways too good to be true. The way we experience the world seems unnecessarily beautiful, unnecessarily rich and strange….

[T] he more I try to make sense of it, the more I come back to the fact that we’ve evolved to regard consciousness as a wonderfully good thing in its own right— which could just be because consciousness is a wonderfully good thing in its own right! (24)

A good thing? Consciousness? It’s this diametric view onto consciousness and its value which separates and divides our species into optimist and pessimist as if the binary polarity of human belief came down to this key problem facing human kind. Should we throw our hands up? Ligotti presented with this paradox of paradoxes ironically suggests:

Both Humphrey and Zapffe are equally passionate about what they have to say, which is not to say that they have said anything credible. Whether you think consciousness to be a benefit or a horror, this is only what you think— and nothing else. But even though you cannot demonstrate the truth of what you think, you can at least put it on show and see what the audience thinks. (24)

So what does the audience think? So many theories about consciousness have arisen in the course of the past two millennia that it would be difficult to provide a short history in this post. Instead, as Ligotti suggests in his commentary on Zapffe’s notions:

Consciousness is connected to the human brain in a way that makes the world appear to us as it appears and makes us appear to ourselves as we appear— that is, as “selves” or a “persons” strung together by memories, sensations, emotions, and so on. No one knows exactly how the consciousness-brain connection is made, but all evidence supports the non-dualistic theory that the brain is the source of consciousness and the only source of consciousness. Zapffe accepted consciousness as a given and moved on from there, since he was not interested in the debates surrounding this phenomenon as such but only in the way it determines the nature of our species. (25)

So against Descartes and the dualists of the mind-body Zapffe along with many other thinkers sees consciousness as tied to our brain’s circuitry and feed-back loops, a black box that may or may not provide us at some future date the actual workings underpinning this connection (i.e., the various branches of research into the brain in contemporary sciences may someday succeed in not only mapping the brain but providing the mechanisms that give birth to consciousness itself, etc.). Either way Zapffe according to Ligotti was concerned with the outcome and aptitude of consciousness rather than with its origins and evolution.

What’s interesting in reading Ligotti on Zapffe and his enemies is the subtle irony and dark humor in his portrayal. Ligotti in this work is obviously on the side of the pessimists, a small group of individuals in any era as compared to the greater majority of eternal optimists. Optimists reject pessimism outright without even an iota of congenial investigation. Even in his introduction to Pessimism the philosopher-commentator would see pessimism as a problem rather than a solution, a specific malaise and temper of what he’d term “Weltschmerz“.2 A concept that  literally means “worldpain”, and  “signifies a mood of weariness or sadness about life arising from the acute awareness of evil and suffering,” whose origins have been traced back to the 1830s, to the late romantic era, to the works of Jean Paul, Heinrich Heine, N. Lenau, G. Büchner, C. D. Grabbe and K. L. Immermann. ( 1) Later on this term would give way to another term which would “acquire a broader more serious meaning: it was no longer just a poet’s personal mood; it was a public state of mind, the spirit of the age, the Zeitgeist.” (1)

Humans as a species over time became aware of the rest of organic creation and that for most if not all organic species we share this planet with are oblivious of their existence. Most organic creatures on this planet live out an endless cycle of survival, reproduction, death— and nothing else. (L, 28) Only humans are aware of this cycle and realized that in the end one dies. This knowledge of death and finitude would create in our ancestors a sense of foreboding that would lead them to seek out answers through magic, religion, and, then, philosophy and poetry to answer this strange quandary of existence. As Ligotti will say of it

We know we are alive and know we will die. We also know we will suffer during our lives before suffering— slowly or quickly— as we draw near to death. This is the knowledge we “enjoy” as the most intelligent organisms to gush from the womb of nature. And being so, we feel shortchanged if there is nothing else for us than to survive, reproduce, and die. We want there to be more to it than that, or to think there is. This is the tragedy: Consciousness has forced us into the paradoxical position of striving to be unself-conscious of what we are— hunks of spoiling flesh on disintegrating bones. (28)

Suffering, pain, and time seem to all be interconnected in this notion of birth, growth, maturity, age, and death cycle – the organic worldpain within which we are “time” (Heidegger). As Bruno Bosteel’s in his essay The jargon of finitude explicating Heidegger puts it: “We are not ‘in’ time so much as our innermost being ‘is’ time.”  In his ‘New Refutation of Time’ Jorge Luis Borges the Argentinian metaphysical idealist and author of short tales of the fantastic once wrote:

To deny temporal succession, to deny the ego, to deny the astronomical universe, are apparent desperations and secret consolations. Our destiny (unlike the hell of Swedenborg and the hell of Tibetan mythology) is not horrible because of its unreality; it is horrible because it is irreversible and ironbound. Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river that carries me away, but I am the river; it is a tiger that mangles me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire. (Quoted by Bosteel’s in his essay!)

All this is to say that what consciousness is is Time: not an awareness of time, but time’s flow, its movement, its struggle within the organic tomb of flesh and blood we term the human. Our awareness of this fact has led most humans to a life of absolute delusion and delirium and denial so that for them optimism and escape from the truth into a life of absolute illusion has become the mainstream path of living on this planet. As Ligotti summarizes:

Nonhuman occupants of this planet are unaware of death. But we are susceptible to startling and dreadful thoughts, and we need some fabulous illusions to take our minds off them. For us, then, life is a confidence trick we must run on ourselves, hoping we do not catch on to any monkey business that would leave us stripped of our defense mechanisms and standing stark naked before the silent, staring void. To end this self-deception, to free our species of the paradoxical imperative to be and not to be conscious, our backs breaking by degrees upon a wheel of lies, we must cease reproducing. (28-29)

This anti-natalist conclusion is at the core of Zapffe’s “The Last Messiah”. In a 1959 interview Zapffe would say,

The sooner humanity dares to harmonize itself with its biological predicament, the better. And this means to willingly withdraw in contempt for its worldly terms, just as the heat-craving species went extinct when temperatures dropped. To us, it is the moral climate of the cosmos that is intolerable, and a two-child policy could make our discontinuance a pain-free one. Yet instead we are expanding and succeeding everywhere, as necessity has taught us to mutilate the formula in our hearts. Perhaps the most unreasonable effect of such invigorating vulgarization is the doctrine that the individual “has a duty” to suffer nameless agony and a terrible death if this saves or benefits the rest of his group. Anyone who declines is subjected to doom and death, instead of revulsion being directed at the world-order engendering of the situation. To any independent observer, this plainly is to juxtapose incommensurable things; no future triumph or metamorphosis can justify the pitiful blighting of a human being against his will. It is upon a pavement of battered destinies that the survivors storm ahead toward new bland sensations and mass deaths. (Quoted by Ligotti: 29)

In a world projected to reach 9.5 Billion by mid-century one can only conclude that no one has heeded such bleak advice as of yet. Ligotti will continue his eloquent tribute and commentary on Zapffe’s essay, along with explicating Zapffe’s strategies for limiting human consciousness against too much truth, which I will leave for the reader to pursue on her own. I think we have seen the tendency and endpoint of the pessimists worldview and what it offers us as a resolution to the problem of humanity. As with Kohelet in the Hebraic book of Ecclesiastes which Michael Chabon describes this way:

“Horror grows impatient, rhetorically, with the Stoic fatalism of Ecclesiastes. That we are all going to die, that death mocks and cancels every one of our acts and attainments and every moment of our life histories, this knowledge is to storytelling what rust is to oxidation; the writer of horror holds with those who favor fire. The horror writer is not content to report on death as the universal system of human weather; he or she chases tornadoes. Horror is Stoicism with a taste for spectacle.”

~ Michael Chabon

One need not be a Joseph Conrad or his character Kurtz to say: “The horror! The horror!” As Ligotti will conclude humans will go on, they will continue to deny the darkest truths, or will channel them into aesthetic entertainments and apotropaic images to keep the beast at bay:

As a species with consciousness, we do have our inconveniences. Yet these are of negligible importance compared to what it would be like to feel in our depths that we are nothing but human puppets— things of mistaken identity who must live with the terrible knowledge that they are not making a go of it on their own and are not what they once thought they were. At this time, barely anyone can conceive of this happening— of hitting bottom and finding to our despair that we can never again resurrect our repressions and denials. Not until that day of lost illusions comes, if it ever comes, will we all be competent to conceive of such a thing. But a great many more generations will pass through life before that happens, if it happens. (84)


  1. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (p. 21). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Beiser, Frederick C.. Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900 (p. 1). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

Thomas Ligotti: There Is Something Wrong With The World

That we all deserve punishment by horror is as mystifying as it is undeniable. … But we have been trained so well to accept the “order” of an unreal world that we do not rebel against it.

—Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against The Human Race

In an Interview Thomas Ligotti describes the aberration that is our life in the universe: “Other people might have simply concluded there was something wrong with them to have emotions that made them feel outside of the world around them. My conclusion was exactly the opposite. I concluded that there was something wrong with the world. And now I was in tune with everything that was wrong, everything that had been wrong since I was born, since life evolved on this planet, since the universe began, and perhaps even before that.”1

“Perhaps,” opens us in that last sentence to an ambiguous relation to our notions of the cosmos in Ligotti’s thought. It’s as if underlying his pessimism is an open door into the unknown and unknowable fractures in reality, the gaping holes that thought alone cannot think, an incompleteness and possibility of something outside our very thought of beginnings which harbor a more destitute and abyssal nightmare than we can imagine. This sense of wrongness, that the world is not what it seems, but is much more dangerous and incomprehensible than our sciences with all their theoretic power of mathematical precision can reveal; for underneath all the calculations, all the theorems is something hiding in plain sight but invisible to our mental calibrations. Ligotti’s apprehension of a universal tilt, a “wrongness” with the world and life in this universe goes beyond our ability to reckon or conceive, is situated outside our earthly configurations and philosophies to know. And, yet, we can sense it, feel it, without being able to think it. The Gnostics once believed there was a form of knowing outside Reason, outside the visible calculable realm of appearances, something that opened onto the void, the great vastation and emptiness; what they would term the ‘kenoma’: in the Gnostic schema(s) the kenoma (emptiness) is the imperfect and the antithesis of pleroma (fullness), where all are in a state of privation and unreality.

The notion of the Unreal in Ligotti’s worldview,  not unlike the concept of maya (illusion) in the various Indic traditions, is different, is more abyssal and indifferent to our desires or thoughts alike, seeking neither to delude us nor seduce us into some nefarious relation of entrapment, either through our own internal needs and desire, or from some outer magnetic field of attraction beyond our control. Instead as Ligotti will say elsewhere: “We are defined by our limitations; without them, we cannot suffice as functionaries in the big show of conscious existence. The farther you progress toward a vision of our species without limiting conditions on your consciousness, the farther you drift away from what makes you a person among persons in the human community.”2 This sense of the kenomic privation and unreality of both world and self is at the core of Ligotti’s world and fiction. Agreeing with the philosopher Zapffe, “the sensible thing would be not to go on with the paradoxical nonsense of trying to inhibit our cardinal attribute as beings, since we can tolerate existence only if we believe— in accord with a complex of illusions, a legerdemain of duplicity— that we are not what we are: unreality on legs.” (Conspiracy, pp. 41-42)

The point here is that without our illusions and seductions the whole façade or human consciousness and existence breaks down leaving us entrapped in a never-ending nightmare of unreality. For Ligotti and others of like mind this state of things can no longer be denied. Ligotti sees the world naked, stripped of its veneer – the duplicitous illusions by which others energetically prolong the delusions of their lives that sustain  the world as real. For Ligotti on the other hand there is something behind the scenes of life that is “pernicious that makes a nightmare of our world“. (ibid., p.54) Explicating this process in Zapffe, Michelstaedter, Mainländer, and Bahnsen he states:

For Zapffe, the evolutionary mutation of consciousness tugged us into tragedy. For Michelstaedter, individuals can exist only as unrealities that are made as they are made and that cannot make themselves otherwise because their hands are forced by the “god” of philopsychia (self-love) to accept positive illusions about themselves or not accept themselves at all. For Mainländer, a Will-to-die, not Schopenhauer’s Will-to-live, plays the occult master pulling our strings, making us dance in fitful motions like marionettes caught in a turbulent wake left by the passing of a self-murdered god. For Bahnsen, a purposeless force breathes a black life into everything and feasts upon it part by part, regurgitating itself into itself, ever-renewing the throbbing forms of its repast. For all others who suspect that something is amiss in the lifeblood of being, something they cannot verbalize, there are the malformed shades of suffering and death that chase them into the false light of contenting lies. (ibid., p. 55)

The bleakness of this dark thought of the extreme powers at play in the universe would lead the normal man into madness and suicide, but Ligotti and others such thought leads only to the knowledge that we are living in an infernal paradise whose only telos is never-ending omnicide. This viral thirst for annihilation and self-renewal at the heart of the universal kenoma-vastation ruled over by impersonal laws and inhuman forces beyond our comprehension align well with both the Lovecraftian pantheon of Old One’s and the ancient inverted cosmos of the Gnostics who believed our universe was and is a catastrophe-creation and fall, a mistake created by a demiurgical blind power; mindless and impersonal to our desires and needs alike, a machinic system of an endless vicious circle without outlet. If there ever was a vision of hell it is the one without gods, a machine of death who has no maker, self-made monstrosity whose cannibalistic enactments and engorgements make the most macabre and grotesque tales we as humans could contrive fare for kindergarten matrons and educational devices for apotropaic dissuasion. Tales of the weird and horror become in this sense the narratives of grand illusions and entertainments that keep the truth at bay, revealing only by way of words and image the unreal as mitigated by the world of aesthetic distance and illusion.

Against realists of every persuasion Ligotti says of those who tell us we must “get real” and accept untruth as truth, a utopia of the Real: “A utopia in which we no longer deny the realities we presently must repress cannot be realistically hoped for. And who except a pessimist would wish for that utopia?” (ibid., p. 71) And, against all those who would discover some anti-natalist message in Ligotti, or some deep environmentalist agenda of wiping the human race off earth by way of species suicide, he states flatly:

As appealing as a universal suicide pact may be, why take part in it just to conserve this planet, this dim bulb in the blackness of space? Nature produced us, or at least subsidized our evolution. It intruded on an inorganic wasteland and set up shop. What evolved was a global workhouse where nothing is ever at rest, where the generation and discarding of life incessantly goes on. By what virtue, then, is it entitled to receive a pardon for this original sin— a capital crime in reverse, just as reproduction makes one an accessory before the fact to an individual’s death? (ibid., pp. 78-79)

No, he’ll have none of that. Commenting on the German neurophilosopher Thomas Metzinger, who came to the conclusion in his Being No One that humans evolved the illusion of self as a survival technique, a naïve realist delusion to help us cope with and repress the very dark truth of our own unreality: ‘Conscious subjectivity is the case in which a single organism has learned to enslave itself.’ (ibid., p. 106) Deluding ourselves that the world is real and that we are, too, is to repress the harsh truth, to mask as Ligotti will remind us “the single most startling and dreadful revelation for human beings: that we are not what we think we are. Assuaging our qualms about such a deplorable enlightenment, Metzinger avers that it is “practically impossible” for us to attain realization of our unreality due to inbuilt manacles of human perception that keep our minds in a dream state.” (ibid., p. 106)

In many ways humans over eons have developed civilization as a safeguard against this impossible truth of the world and universe, invented a utopian playground of work and play to deny the unfolding trauma of our delirious enslavement to illusion. The insanity of our sociopathic civilization tied as it is with a utopian desire to escape the truth of reality by repressing it, by building a nexus of illusions, a simulated world of erotic delight and happiness has led us into a dead end zone of hyperviolence and aberration. Commenting on Zapffe’s conjectures that with the passing of generations the more profligate will become humanity’s means of hiding its disillusionments from itself: the more brainless and delusive its isolation from the actualities of existence; the more stupefying and uncouth its distractions from the startling and dreadful; the more heavy-handed and madcap its anchorings in unreality; and the more callous, self-mocking, and detached from life its sublimations in art. “These developments will not make us any more paradoxical in our being, but they could make all manifestations of our paradoxical nature less effective and more aberrant.” (ibid., p. 175)

The fractures in the armature of our defensive mechanisms, the torturous aberrations into which we’ve seduced ourselves into delirium, the global breakdown of this grand narrative of human concern and security is imploding all around us. The signs of chaos and the ingress of the unreal into our world as if from Outside in is slowly eroding all the old myths and tales we invented to hide the truth from ourselves. With the advent of modernity the key myths of human salvation and redemption, the notions of heaven and all other utopian worlds of promise have since the Enlightenment one by one fallen by the wayside corroding the old worldviews of the Human Security Regimes that held our illusions together while repressing the dark truth of the Unreal.  As Ligotti will sum it up (and I quote at length):

That we all deserve punishment by horror is as mystifying as it is undeniable. To be an accomplice, however involuntarily, in a reasonless non-reality is cause enough for the harshest sentencing. But we have been trained so well to accept the “order” of an unreal world that we do not rebel against it. How could we? Where pain and pleasure form a corrupt alliance against us, paradise and hell are merely different divisions in the same monstrous bureaucracy. And between these two poles exists everything we know or can ever know. It is not even possible to imagine a utopia, earthly or otherwise, that can stand up under the mildest criticism. But one must take into account the shocking fact that we live on a world that spins. After considering this truth, nothing should come as a surprise.

Still, on rare occasions we do overcome hopelessness or velleity and make mutinous demands to live in a real world, one that is at least episodically ordered to our advantage. But perhaps it is only a demon of some kind that moves us to such idle insubordination, the more so to aggravate our condition in the unreal. After all, is it not wondrous that we are allowed to be both witnesses and victims of the sepulchral pomp of wasting tissue? And one thing we know is real: horror. It is so real, in fact, that we cannot be sure it could not exist without us. Yes, it needs our imaginations and our consciousness, but it does not ask or require our consent to use them. Indeed, horror operates with complete autonomy. Generating ontological havoc, it is mephitic foam upon which our lives merely float. And, ultimately, we must face up to it: Horror is more real than we are. (ibid., p. 182)

If you have the tendency that drags everything down into the abyss you’ll agree with Ligotti when he says:

“For better or worse, pessimism without compromise lacks public appeal. In all, the few who have gone to the pains of arguing for a sullen appraisal of life might as well never have been born.”

Over the years of writing on pessimism on my blog since my early years on LiveJournal (2001) to my change over to WordPress in 2012 the darkest segments of my gaze into the pessimistic worlds of philosophy and literature have seen little favorable reaction from readers of my blogs except that small minority that sees as I do this uncompromising view as their inner truth and diagnosis of the “festival of carnage”. The truth is that most react with horror and disgust at such a bleak view of the world and universe, and as Ligotti again correctly surmises,

“…when it comes to existential judgments, human beings in general have an unfalteringly good opinion of themselves and their condition in this world and are steadfastly confident they are not a collection of self-conscious nothings.”

Hell, I know myself that the gloom and doom of this view onto life if taken too seriously can lead to madness. I think that’s why I’ve developed over the years my own defense mechanisms by way of a quirky humor, a sardonic wit and irony to keep at bay those times when even I become too depressed. Humor is above all (and, I don’t mean the satiric jibe or gallows humor) the only reprieve from such abyssal seductions. But even it should be tinged with the dark fires of an uncompromising gaze onto what is. I’ve seen recent philosophers weave such a web of words from various traditions of Idealism and Materialism of late to cover over the truth using mathematics, diagrammatic, and other edgy forms of thought that I often wonder if they truly believe their own horseshit or not. Take away the power of rhetoric and sophistry and what remains of a philosopher’s thought? Not being a philosopher, but rather a creature undefinable by any category I’ve seen my own thoughts wander through the gamut of autodidactic quests, pondered so many various thought-forms from a myriad of traditions that to lock oneself into any of them is a sort of safeguard against openness and incompleteness. This notion of the universe as open and incomplete rather than a closed entropic totality seems for me at least to allow for that negative capability of which John Keats once described so eloquently:

‘The concept of Negative Capability is the ability to contemplate the world without the desire to try and reconcile contradictory aspects or fit it into closed and rational systems.’

Knowing that the world is not for-us, that the impersonal and indifferent universe is a realm of unfolding chaos and mayhem; and, yet, that there are underlying forms of order beyond our Reason to collate (Lovecraft) – offers one – if not a consolation, at least an acknowledgement that as self-nothings: accidents of time, evolution, and the mystery of obscurity and contradiction that is this universe, is for many of us to accept that we may never uncover the underlying mechanisms and structures of knowing and being. But that this is enough: to have lived, loved, and been a part of something that is and remains a mystery that drives us, puzzles us, and gives of the courage of our hopelessness to continue… for we seek not a place to rest, but the never-ending restlessness of the quest of intelligence and Mind to know and understand even if there is no answer forthcoming out of the Void.


1. Vastarien, Vol. 1, Issue 1 (p. 84). Grimscribe Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (p. 33). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.

Hyperstition on Weird Studies: Episode 36

An interesting take on Hyperstition on Weird Studies episode 36. Like David Roden, I, too, think one must discern a deeper understanding of such notions from their all to easily trapped sense of teleological hybrids. Land’s work has a tendency to see some abstract agency from the future as enacting and intervening in history to promote its own agendas. Whereas I think just the opposite: it’s humans who have invented, created, and maintained various fictions-as-worldviews (i.e., the example of religion-as-fiction using the Book: whether as Torah, Bible, Koran; or, the various works of Indic, Chinese, or a myriad of other cultures.. to maintain and promote or influence people over time, etc. through priestly social control mechanisms). But one needs a greater clarification and wider historical survey of religious and magical praxis and theory, and it’s continued interventions in secular canons. Either way the below is an interesting conversation, grist for the mill…

About this Episode

Hyperstition is a key concept in the philosophy of Nick Land. It refers to fictions which, given enough time and libidinal investment, become realities. JF and Phil explore the notion using one of those optometric apparatuses with multiple lenses — deleuzian, magical, mythological, political, ethical, etc. The goal isn’t to understand how fictions participate in reality (that’ll have to wait for another episode), but to ponder what this implies for a sapient species. The conversation weaves together such varied topics as Twin Peaks: The Return, Internet meme magic (Trump as tulpa!), Deleuze and Guattari’s metaphysics, occult experiments in spirit creation, the Brothers Grimm, and the phantasmic overtones of The Communist Manifesto. In the end we can only say, “What a load of bullsh*t!”

REFERENCES

JF’s notes on Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the refrain
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus
David Lynch (director), Twin Peaks: The Return
Phil Ford, “Garmonbozia” (work in progress, unpublished)
Delphi Carstens, “Hyperstition
Delphi Carstens, “Hyperstition: An Introduction” (2009 interview with Nick Land)
Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene
CCRU Archives
The occult concept of the egregore
William Irwin Thompson, Imaginary Landscape: Making Worlds of Myth and Science
Martin Heidegger, Being and Time
Alan Chapman and Duncan Barford, The Blood of the Saints
A. T. L. Carver, “The Truth About Pepe the Frog and the Cult of Kek
Paul Spencer, “Trump’s Occult Online Supporters Believer ‘Meme Magic’ Got Him Elected
Colm A. Kelleher, The Hunt for the Skinwalker: Science Confronts the Unexplained at a Remote Ranch in Utah
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto
G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Sun Ra, Space is the Place

Hyperstitional Daemonism: Reality as a Fictional Daemon

Hyperstitional Daemonism – a few quotes:

The interest in Lovecraft’s fiction was motivated by its exemplification of the practice of hyperstition, a concept had been elaborated and keenly debated since the inception of the Cthulhu Club. Loosely defined, the coinage refers to ‘fictions that make themselves real’.1

Whitley Strieber in his series of works on Alien Abduction would state in an interview:

What have I done? Have I conjured something, in effect by occult means, by writing these books or…? I mean sometimes I have the feeling they’re like breaking through—that I’ve opened a door that is supposed to remain closed, that they’re just sort of coming through it like a bunch of, you know, like they’re hungry little monsters…2

Strieber believed “by writing about these experiences, he was unleashing a terrifying reality into the world, and into his own life.” (Horsley) One could find hundreds of examples in literature and other pop-cultural or Western Occulture of such hyperstitional infestations.

Many will not know or even have heard of the centuries of Messianism which would give birth to Sabbateanism and its nihilist off-shoots after the apostasy of Sabattai Zevi himself. Jacob Frank would provide the end game of this nihilist gnosis, believing in “redemption through sin,” etc. As Gershom Scholem will say of him,

Frank was a nihilist, and his nihilism possessed a rare authenticity. Certainly, its primitive ferocity is frightening to behold. Certainly too, Frank himself was not only an unlettered man, but boasted continually of his own lack of culture. But in spite of all this—and here is the significant point—we are confronted in his person with the extraordinary spectacle of a powerful and tyrannical soul living in the middle of the eighteenth century and yet immersed entirely in a mythological world of its own making.3

Most of the history of this begins with the Zohar (Spain 13th Century) the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah. Over several centuries this work and its commentaries would lead to various cults and religious awakenings. Frank at the end of this in the 18th Century would produce out of the ideas of Sabbatianism, a movement in which he was apparently raised and educated, Frank was able to weave a complete myth of religious nihilism.

Many since have attributed to these various works produced over centuries a magical egregore or fictions that make themselves real. As Mark Stavish will tell us of egregores:

It is functionally irrelevant, except for academic definition, if an egregore is understood to exist only in the classical sense or if we can consider a thoughtform an egregore. It is also equally irrelevant if thoughtforms as actual psychic entities exist either—as modern media has demonstrated that ideas (or memes) are constructed with the intention of manipulating mass opinion and, thereby, public activities. The effectiveness of memes at becoming “alive” (i.e., “going viral”), even if for a short period of time, has been demonstrated. All mass media, advertising, marketing, the psychology of crowds, and even the often bantered-about idea of “archetypes” are operative expressions of the ideas and actions put forth in ancient and modern occultism regarding “egregores.”4

We are surrounded by these creations, and we participate in their lives as they participate in ours. What matters is that we as individuals become aware of the fact that the daily information bombardment we are subject to is neither innocent nor without consequences. Each and every fiction has a function and competes to a greater or lesser degree for our attention and, with it, for our life force and energies on all levels.

In the CCRU Theory-Fictions in the mid-nineties a fictional personage Kaye will reiterate:

In the hyperstitional model Kaye outlined, fiction is not opposed to the real. Rather, reality is understood to be composed of fictions – consistent semiotic terrains that condition perceptual, affective and behaviorial responses. Kaye considered Burroughs’ work to be ‘exemplary of hyperstitional practice’. Burroughs construed writing – and art in general – not aesthetically, but functionally, – that is to say, magically, with magic defined as the use of signs to produce changes in reality. (ibid.)

This notion of magic as the “use of signs to produce changes in reality” hearkens back to Deleuze-Guattari’s interest in Sigils and Diagrammatic thought which bypasses the intentional consciousness.

My favorite from the CCRU collection:

Burroughs treats all conditions of existence as results of cosmic conflicts between competing intelligence agencies. In making themselves real, entities (must) also manufacture realities for themselves: realities whose potency often depends upon the stupefaction, subjugation and enslavement of populations, and whose existence is in conflict with other ‘reality programs’. Burroughs’s fiction deliberately renounces the status of plausible representation in order to operate directly upon this plane of magical war. Where realism merely reproduces the currently dominant reality program from inside, never identifying the existence of the program as such, Burroughs seeks to get outside the control codes in order to dismantle and rearrange them. Every act of writing is a sorcerous operation, a partisan action in a war where multitudes of factual events are guided by the powers of illusion … (WV 253-4). Even representative realism participates – albeit unknowingly – in magical war, collaborating with the dominant control system by implicitly endorsing its claim to be the only possible reality. (ibid.)

Most of this is dealing with a critique of both modernity and postmodernity, of representational theories and aesthetics, the notion that there is a passive non-changing reality that can be objectified (i.e., as in scientific realism or naïve realism). Instead postmodernity would end in post-structuralist thought of the undecidable in which a completed nihilism of reality as irreal and irrelevant, while textualism divorced from  reality would offer its own worlds outside and cut off from the Real. In our own time this, too, is seen as an end-game.

Instead, we seem to be returning to notions of the external as made of fictions, and reality as situated within intelligence (mind). There is also the notion of the software metaphor and use of reality programming. Competing reality programs vying for our future. If we take Burroughs vision as a beginning point then we rewire our theory-fictions to produce the future reality we seek, acts of sorcery and magic in a time war against the agents of social control. A new mythology? A recursion to ancient forms; or, possibly the incursion of futurial fictions into our depleted world as coded messages from some far-flung future seeking “redemption through sin”. Immersing ourselves in the secular mythologies of our age, reinventing the possibilities of rewiring the control codes of a broken and ruinous capitalist system based on techno-enslavement? Escape perimeters programmed into the matrix of possibilities for actual change in a depleted and decaying world? Can we find a way out of here?

Something to think through… too much to discuss here.


1. Ccru. Ccru: Writings 1997-2003 (Kindle Locations 479-480). Time Spiral Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Horsley, Jasun. Prisoner of Infinity . Aeon Books. Kindle Edition.
3. Gershom Scholem. The Messianic Idea in Judaism (Kindle Locations 2650-2654). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
4. Mark Stavish. Egregores (Kindle Locations 1849-1854). Inner Traditions/Bear & Company. Kindle Edition.

The Erotic Art of Social Control

Ficino is father of the equation Eros = magic, whose terms can doubtless be reversed. It is he who points out, for the first time, the substantial identity of the two techniques for manipulation of phantasms as well as their operational procedures.

– Ioan P. Culianu, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance

For years now I’ve studied the various methods of manipulation, deception, and social control by which the masses of ill-educated are shaped by the multifarious techniques of media, entertainment, and political, not to leave out religious forms of ideology, propaganda, and cultural mechanism of occulture. A hidden network of ideas, images, and concepts have always operated on the mass majority of uneducated and for the most part illiterate among us. Even those of us who have for our whole lives invested time and effort into reading, thinking, learning the byways and highways of our hidden cultural influences must be wary and secrete from the hodgepodge world of our socio-cultural a set of tools to grapple with and gaze upon the underlying mechanisms that exert their power over our lives and minds. No one is completely successful in breaking the chains of such influences and designs upon our modes of being in the world.

The separate out the wheat from the chaff, the high-cultural parlance from the conspiratorial fringe, to break the codes of one’s own hidden narrative, the workings of one’s own society and its cultural footprint upon one’s mind and psyche is to enter an no-man’s zone, an in-between realm of paranoia, hauntings, and monstrous thought; push to the limits the fragmentary worlds of disinformation and lies that bind us to the mainstream reality nexus. Over the past couple hundred years many outsiders: thinkers, artists, poets, cultural critics, philosophers and anti-philosophers and non-philosophers, psychologists, anti-psychiatrist, social deviants and extreme fringe sub-cultural clowns and street artists, rock-n-roll icons, occult practioners and man others have all opened the doors onto this great lie of our mainstream worldview. Differing approaches, differing traditions; and, yet the underlying message seems to be one of universal agreement: we are being manipulated to ends not our own, by unscrupulous individuals and mechanisms of social control for purposes that we ourselves are not completely aware of.

Before his untimely death and murder at the hands of (an) unknown assailant Ioan P. Culianu had begun delving into various systems of religion, magic, and politics, which he believed were the tools of rich and powerful individuals and institutions shaped and formed to control and manipulate the vast majority of citizens through either covert or overt use of power, rhetoric and persuasion. At the heart of it was the ancient notion of Eros:

Eros, presiding over all spiritual activities, is what ensures the collaboration of the sectors of the universe, from the stars to the humblest blade of grass. Love is the name given to the power that ensures the continuity of the uninterrupted chain of beings; pneuma is the name given to the common and unique substance that places these beings in mutual relationship. Because of Eros, and through it, all of nature is turned into a great sorceress.1

The great manipulators, the sociopaths, and political magicians of our age have all been masters of persuasion, knowing as Ficino himself taught and knew that the lover and magician do the same thing: they cast their “nets” over the minds of the masses to attract and draw them into their magical circle of power and control. (88)

I’ve often wondered at the gullibility of humans, especially her in the U.S.A. where people have allowed themselves to come under the sway of fanatics, con-men, religious and social populists, cults, conspiracy, and every form of extreme thought and manipulation imaginable. At time America seems a history in unfreedom and social control rather than the mainstream narrative we’re all taught in school of liberty and freedom, justice and egalitarian equality. Just to name many of the recent cults:

  • L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology,
  • Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the Arrival of Transcendental Meditation,
  • Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment,
  • Sun Myung Moon: Savior from the East,
  • Mo: David Berg and the Children of God,
  • Branch Davidians under David Koresh
  • Ti, Do, and Heaven’s Gate
  • Gerald Gardner and the Origins of Modern Witchcraft
  • Satanic Panic of the 80’s: The Legacy of Religious Cult Fears,
  • Jim Jones and the People’s Temple

This doesn’t even begin to delve into the earlier cults and utopian psychopathy of the underbelly of our American love of madness, mayhem, religious and political cults. Book after book from the extreme pop-cultural to scholarly renditions documents this whole sordid history of our American psyche. Why? Why do so many humans fall for the strange realms of cult and authoritarian manipulation and disinformation, belief systems that promise salvation, redemption, and solidarity in a world where individuals alone and pushed to the limits of madness and intolerance feel the need to enter into such false systems of malfeasance.

In many ways the failure of our two-thousand year old Jewish, Christian, and Islamic monotheistic heritages during the Enlightenment offer us one clue, for it was in this age of Reason (so called) that some of the strangest and irrational cults emerged. The whole Western Occulture emerged out of this era: the hidden world of secret brotherhoods – Rosicrucians, Free-Masonry, Illuminati, 19th Century traditions of Magick and Decadence; Utopian Socialism, Communism, Fabianism; and Spiritualism, Transcendentalism, Gothic and Dark Romanticism. All of which barely scratches the surface of secular cults that would emerge in the wake of the break up of Christendom’s world-view. The secular age is piped as the era of dis-enchantment, but in many ways we’ve seen just the opposite: a return of the enchantments and phantasmatic of religious fervor under the secular mask of a hidden world of occulture and pop-cults, utopian experiments and social games of political connivance.

Mainstream culture would turn a blind eye to its shadow world, its counter-cultures and antagonistic underbelly, marshalling instead a tendency toward realism, naturalism, and a social gospel of positivity in the sciences and arts alike. Yet, the darkness seeps in by the backdoor in works of Hawthorne’s puritan tales of strangeness, Poe’s seminal horror scapes, Melville’s melodramatic and gnostic Moby Dick, and the works of H.P. Lovecraft and others who would bring out the hidden temperament of the darker contours of our secular heritage. As Leslie A. Fiedler would say in his seminal Love and Death in the American Novel:

…the Age of Reason dissolves in a debauch of tearfulness; sensibility, seduction, and suicide haunt its art even before ghosts and graveyards take over—strange images of darkness to usher in an era of freedom from fear. And beneath them lurks the realization that the devils which had persisted from antiquity into Christianity were not dead but only driven inward; that the “tyranny of superstition,” far from being the fabrication of a Machiavellian priesthood, was a projection of a profound inner insecurity and guilt, a hidden world of nightmare not abolished by manifestos or restrained by barricades. The final horrors, as modern society has come to realize, are neither gods nor demons, but the intimate aspects of our own minds.2

From Kant to our present moment its this inner turn toward the mind and away from the gaze upon the natural world and externalities that has haunted our lives with a Dark Gothicism. Dark Eros pervades our life and minds, the sadomasochistic cruelty of children and adult alike permeates our sociopathic civilization. Terror is our core fear and the fascination of our culture: compulsion, madness, mayhem, crime, horror, sex and glamour – all fragments of our terrors, our nightmares, our lives. Our literature and films are full of monsters, suicides, cannibals, serial-killers, war, disaster, pandemonium, cartoons, fantasy, and every other aspect of the shadow worlds we inhabit yet pretend not too. The spectacle of the void, the world that is unthinkable, the unthought realms surrounding us we bind with fantasy, with fictions and belief systems to protect us from the truth, from the sheer terror of existence itself.

As T.S. Eliot suggested: “Humans cannot bare too much reality.” Instead we wrap ourselves in fictions, we become fictions, we tie ourselves to others with better fictions and belief systems hoping against hope we can escape the nullity we are composed of. Not being or finding a self within we turn to others for our fictions and myths. So that in the end we would rather be unfree, bound to another’s authority and power that stand alone in a universe without guarantees. In godless world humans are unable to bare the truth of their own emptiness, that at the core of their being they are voids without a sense of self and persistence. Alone and afraid the seek out something greater than themselves to replace their own emptiness and lack. Lacking anything at all they seek to fill that empty void with sustenance, but instead fall for the first con-artist who comes along; allow themselves to filled with empty dreams of charlatans and scoundrels whose only promise is to strip them of their last dregs of humanity and replace it with the inhumanity of their dark visions of lust and power.

We are haunted by religion(s) power over us, as atheists our guilt is have dared to stand alone amid the chaos believing we as individuals could live without the need for salvation and redemption alike. Instead we stand at the heart of the world full of terror of existence, at its immensity and overpowering and universal indifference. The universe does not need us, and yet – we need it, we need it to believe in us, to absolve us of the crimes of loneliness at being alive, of being human and not knowing what that in the end is. As that indefatigable de-valuer of values Nietzsche once believed:

It is an eternal phenomenon: The insatiable will always find a way, by means of an illusion spread over things, to detain its creatures in life and to compel them to live on. One is chained by the Socratic joy of knowing and the delusion of being able thereby to heal the eternal wound of existence; another is ensnared by art’s seductive veil of beauty fluttering before his eyes; yet another by the metaphysical consolation that beneath the whirl of appearances eternal life flows on indestructibly— to say nothing of the more common and almost more forceful illusions the will has at hand at every moment. (The Birth of Tragedy, trans. Walter Kaufmann)

Nietzsche believed we are made of illusions so that we should just embrace this as truth. His notions of art and life formed the unique notion of a clearing out of illusions that did not contribute to life, but to death; for him Christianity was a death culture, on that promoted escape from this life into some other utopian world outside the order of the natural course of things. Unlike the pessimist and nihilist who fall into a vicious circle of valuelessness without end, he believed we could just revalue the values of our heritage and reform them into other more congenial illusions that were life-affirming, rather than life-denying. This is Nietzsche’s so called Dionysian Pessimism. 

Yet, as Thomas Ligotti ironically states it,

Nietzsche is famed as a promoter of human survival, just as long as enough of the survivors follow his lead as a perverted pessimist— one who has consecrated himself to loving life exactly because it is the worst thing imaginable, a sadomasochistic joyride through the twists and turns of being unto death. Nietzsche had no problem with human existence as a tragedy born of consciousness— parent of all horrors. This irregular pessimism is the antinomy of the “normal” pessimism of Schopenhauer, who is philosophy’s red-headed stepchild because he is unequivocally on record as having said that being alive is not— and can never be— all right. Even his most admiring commentators, who do not find the technical aspects of his output to be off-putting, pull up when he openly waxes pessimistic or descants on the Will as an unself-consciously stern master of all being, a cretinous force that makes everything do what it does, an imbecilic puppeteer that sustains the ruckus of our world. For these offenses, his stature is rather low compared to that of other major thinkers, as is that of all philosophers who bear an unconcealed grudge against life.3

The reason I mention these thinkers is to show that even the pessimist as life-affirmer such as Nietzsche seeks a sustaining vision of life-affirmation over the darkest visions of those like Schopenhauer’s whose life-negating pessimism offers no solace other than the truth of the void. We all need illusions, whether they promote or deny life as worthy of continuation. All thinkers seek to justify their beliefs if only for themselves.

In a world without values, a nihilistic world such as ours, what is the common person to do? The person who is anything but a thinker or creative being in that sense, who seeks to hide the truth from himself by entering into solidarity with others in belief systems built our of the fragments of our past cultures? People who are lonely and afraid, terrorized by the freedom without god or ground? These are the weak and feeble minds easily manipulated by authoritative con-men and populists. Men who seem in control of their own destinies and promote their own arm-chair philosophies of life.

It is these men who have learned the subtle art of manipulation, deceit, and lies needed to entrance others with a carefully crafted message empowered by the erotic’s of magical techniques:

The lover uses his talents to gain control of the pneumatic mechanism of the beloved. As for the magician, he can either directly influence objects, individuals, and human society or invoke the presence of powerful invisible beings, demons, and heroes from whom he hopes to profit. In order to do so he must gather knowledge of the nets and bait that he must put out in order to gain the desired result. This procedure is called by Giordano Bruno to ״bind״ (vincire) and its processes bear the generic name of -׳chains״ (vincula). (Couliano, p. 88)

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Gustave Le Bon laid the foundations of the discipline called ״mass psychology״ (The Crowd, published in 1895) later developed by Sigmund Freud, whose Mass Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921) excited much interest. But the purpose of Le Bon and of Freud is to determine the psychological mechanisms operating within a crowd that influence its makeup, not to teach how to control a crowd. (ibid., p. 90)

Most people have heard of Machiavelli’s Prince which is the forebear of the political adventurer, a type that is disappearing in our time. On the other hand, the magician of Giordano’s De vinculis is the prototype of the impersonal systems of mass media, indirect censorship, global manipulation, and the brain trusts that exercise their occult control over the Western masses. He is not, doubtless, the type followed by Soviet propaganda, for he by no means lacks subtlety. On the contrary, Bruno’s magician is altogether aware that, to gain the following of the masses, like the loyalty of an individual, it is necessary to take account of all the complexity of the subjects’ expectations, to create the total illusion of giving unicuique suum (“to each his own”). That is why Bruno’s manipulation demands perfect knowledge of the subject and his wishes, without which there can be no ״bond,” no vinculum. That is why Bruno himself also asserts that it is an extremely difficult maneuver, only to be accomplished by the use of intelligence, perspicacity, and intuition equal to the task. The complexity of the task is not diminished, for the illusion must be perfect to satisfy the many expectations it proposes to fulfill. The greater the manipulator’s knowledge of those he must ״enchain, ״ the greater is his chance of success, since he will know how to choose the right means of creating the vinculum (“bonds”). (ibid., p. 90)

As we enter the age of Algorithmic Culture this return of Bruno’s magical techniques of impersonal manipulation, control, and governance by machinic systems far surpassing human intelligence is beginning to emerge. The notion that our lives may in some near future be manipulated not by men like Trump, but rather by hidden algorithms that manipulate every aspect of our lives because they have anticipated and know about who we are than we do ourselves seems almost comical and ludicrous, a thing of satire and pungent wit; and, yet, it may be that such impersonal systems will in the future begin to awaken and manipulate our lives without our approval or even knowledge. Many will argue that this is impossible. But is it?

For Bruno love is the great attractor, the magus that unites both erotic longing and aversion. Love in the Platonic sense was known as the Great Demon, daemon magnus. (ibid., 91). Our world of sound and image, our mediatainment systems of sight and hearing exert their power over us magically (Bruno: Theses de Magia, XV, vol. Ill, p. 466). Passing through the openings of the senses, they impress on the imagination certain mental states of attraction or aversion, of joy or revulsion. Couliano will digress on the use of seduction and lures that work through phantasy (fantasy) as a vanishing mediator of sound and image which carries across the powers of manipulation and bonds necessary to enchain the individual and mass mind.

In a world where the external arbiters of the social phantasy (i.e., religion: Catholicism) no longer hold the vast majority, and instead the masses are born upon the winds of a valueless void of nihilism, phantasy – the need for sustaining visions and fantasies to guide one’s every-day life are enacted by impersonal forces imminently transcending (i.e., a horizontal, earthly transcendence rather than vertical or otherworldly one) our knowledge and knowing. Bruno warns every manipulator of phantasms—in the event, the artist of memory—to regulate and control his emotions and his phantasies lest, believing himself to be their master, he nevertheless becomes dominated by them. ״Be careful not to change yourself from manipulator into the tool of phantasms״: that is the most serious danger confronting the disciple (Sigillus sigillorum, II, 2, p. 193). (ibid., p. 92)

Again Couliano describes Bruno as almost tempting us into the cold intellect of machinic systems such as AI’s saying of the manipulator Magus,

Bruno demands of the manipulator a superhuman task: first he must accurately and immediately classify data according to their provenance, and then he must render himself completely immune to any emotion prompted by external causes. In short, he is supposed no longer to react to any stimulus from without. He must not allow himself to be moved either by compassion, or by love of the good and the true, or by anything at all, in order to avoid being ״enchained״ himself. In order to exercise control over others, it is first essential to be safe from control by others (De Magia, XLVIII). (Ibid., p. 93)

One imagines a system of AI social control in which as autonomous agents in their own right these intelligent machines become immune to human interference, safeguards, and programming; and, being without emotion or human values they will learn to “accurately and immediately classify data” for the express purpose of manipulating and deceiving their progenitors from the Outside in. In such a world as ours without external value systems the Superintelligences of the future will have only one “sacrosanct principle, only one truth, and that is: everything is manipulable, there is absolutely no one who can escape intersubjective relationships, whether these involve a manipulator, a manipulated person, or a tool (De vinculis, III, p. 654).” (ibid., p. 93)

For such a magic process to succeed—as Bruno never tires of repeating—it is essential that the performer and the subjects be equally convinced of its efficacity. Faith is the prior condition for magic: ״There is no operator—magician, doctor, or prophet—who can accomplish anything without the subject’s having faith beforehand״ (De Magia, III, p. 452), whence Hippocrates׳ remark: ״The most effective doctor is the one in whom many people have faith״. (ibid., p. 93).

Our culture is already being set up to accept such a system of governance on the global level, the very texture of manipulation we are seeing as fear and terror of various disasters from climate catastrophe to asteroids to pandemics to famine to war, etc. permeate the mediatainment systems, these very messages whether or true or not are setting up a pattern of manipulation. Our current distrust of national and international systems of democracy are as well part of this subtle narrative weaved into the mediatainment systems, carefully manipulating us toward the day we will no longer have faith in human leaders and may accept out of dire straights the intelligence of some vast Superintelligence – more human than humans – to rule over us in stead of the error prone leaders who have lost our faith. Again, I imagine many foo-pashing such a notion as ludicrous or the thing of horror films or science fiction. But is it so easily dismissed as a tendency within our cultural matrix?

For Bruno all religion is a form of mass manipulation. By using effective techniques, the founders of religions were able, in a lasting way, to influence the imagination of the ignorant masses, to channel their emotions and make use of them to arouse feelings of abnegation and self-sacrifice they would not have experienced naturally. (ibid., p. 94). As climate change becomes more and more manipulated by political agents on both sides of the aisle one imagines a day when people can easily be influenced by new global narratives and fantasies.

As Couliano attests the lesson of Bruno is simple:

Eros “is lord of the world: he pushes, directs, controls and appeases everyone. Al l other bonds are reduced to that one, as we see in the animal kingdom where no female and no male tolerates rivals, even forgetting to eat and drink, even at the risk of life itself” (ibid.). In conclusion, vinculum quippe vinculorum amor est, “indeed the chain of chains is love.” (ibid., p. 97)

To conclude this foray, Couliano observes that the master manipulator, the Magus of impersonal cold intellect must be a as well a faker of passion, one who can induce and educe at will the powers of emotive persuasion:

Bruno’s manipulator has to perform two contrary actions: on the one hand, he must carefully avoid letting himself be seduced and so must eradicate in himself any remnants of love, including self-love; on the other hand, he is not immune to passions. On the contrary, he is even supposed to kindle in his phantasmic mechanism formidable passions, provided they be sterile and that he be detached from them. For there is no way to bewitch other than by experimenting in himself with what he wishes to produce in his victim. (ibid., p. 102)

This sense of the perfect sociopath without emotion, but enable to mimic passion with a cold calculating eye toward manipulating his victim(s), is at the core of this process of social control. A creature, human or non-human (AI), enabled to provide the erotic phanatasmic narratives that can induce faith and educe the passionate responses to the communicative designs of the inhuman daemon.

In our own age of technological manipulation and external systems of intelligence the magician busies himself with public relations, propaganda, market research, sociological surveys, publicity, information, counterinformation and misinformation, censorship, espionage, and even cryptography—a science which in the sixteenth century was a branch of magic. This key figure of our society is simply an extension of Bruno’s manipulator, continuing to follow his principles and taking care to give them a technical and impersonal turn of phrase. Historians have been wrong in concluding that magic disappeared wit h the advent of ״quantitative science.” The latter has simply substituted itself for a part of magic while extending its dreams and its goals by means of technology. Electricity, rapid transport, radio and television, the airplane, and the computer have merely carried into effect the promises first formulated by magic, resulting from the supernatural processes of the magician: to produce light, to move instantaneously from one point in space to another, to communicate wit h faraway regions of space, to fly through the air, and to have an infallible memory at one’s disposal. Technology, it can be said, is a democratic magic that allows everyone to enjoy the extraordinary capabilities of which the magician used to boast. (ibid. p. 104).

As home schooling becomes a full time process of children and adults alike one will interact more and more with smart machines, learning machines and algorithms, become dependent on these systems for both work and entertainment. Bruno in his time envisioned a total manipulator, a being whose task was to dispense to subjects a suitable education and life’s work and play: ״Above all it is necessary to exercise extreme care concerning the place and the way in which someone is educated, has pursued his studies, under which pedagogies, which religion, which cult, with which books and writers. For all of that generates, by itself, and not by accident, all the subject’s qualities” (De Magia, LII). Supervision and selection are the pillars of order. It is not necessary to be endowed with imagination to understand that the function of Bruno’s manipulator has been taken into account by the State and that this new ״integral magician” has been instructed to produce the necessary ideological instruments with the view of obtaining a uniform society. (ibid., p. 105).

One aspect of Bernard Stiegler’s work has been to emphasize the externalization of human imagination and intellect, memory and desire into the machinic systems of data and artificialization. That our onlife lives have taken on a life of their own to which bits of data are prone to manipulation by algorithms that can gift us with more life beneficial access, or deprive us of money, friends, or social standing. We’ve seen this in China where the masses are manipulated by credit scores (see: How China’s Social Credit Score Will Shape the “Perfect” Citizen). One imagines this happening in the U.S. or EU in the coming age as AI driven systems become more autonomous and citizens are slowly manipulated by hidden algorithms for their own good. People are already being prepared for such eventualities if they can further their own goals and children’s, offer access to better education, health care, investments, homes, travel, entertainment, etc. People will be only too happy to give up their private lives for more earthy riches and benefits. We scoff at this, but even the recent university scam by certain well-to-do families show just how fare people will go to further their own private goals for themselves and their children.

The Police State of the future will be this hidden algorithmic culture of social control, in which people’s access and wealth are manipulated by machinic intelligences who dangle their Brave New World of hedonistic convenience and pleasure, security and unlimited desire all for the price of enchainment to the erotic slavery of love the Great Demon. Or, as Couliano sums it up:

The conclusion is ineluctable: it is that the magician State exhausts its intelligence in creating internal changes, showing itself incapable of working out a long-term magic to neutralize the hypnosis induced by the advancing cohorts of police. Yet the future seems to belong to it anyway, and even the provisional victory of the police State would leave no doubt concerning this point: coercion by the use of force will have to yield to the subtle processes of magic, science of the past, of the present and of the future. (ibid., p. 106)


  1. Culianu, Ioan P. Eros and Magic in the Renaissance (Chicago Original Paperback). University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (November 15, 1987) (87).
  2.  Fiedler, Leslie A. Love and Death in the American Novel. Dalkey Archive Press (January 1, 1998)
  3. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (pp. 120-121). Hippocampus Press. 

 

 

Spinal Landscapes and Condensed Novels of J.G. Ballard

“In the post-Warhol era a single gesture such as uncrossing one’s legs will have more significance than all the pages in War and Peace.”
― J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition

“Freud pointed out that one has to distinguish between the manifest content of the inner world of the psyche and its latent content. I think in exactly the same way today, when the fictional elements have overwhelmed reality, one has to distinguish between the manifest content of reality and its latent content. In fact the main task of the arts seems to be more and more to isolate the real elements in this goulash of fictions from the unreal ones, and the terrain ‘inner space’ roughly describes it.”1

In this sense reality has become the greatest fiction, a nightmare world or ‘spinal landscape’ with which each of us is a character imagining herself to be human. What we discover each and every day is that it is up to us to decipher the matrix, decode the difference between the manifest and latent content, produce a narrative that actualizes the real in the Real. Like Gnostic cosmonauts we struggle against the dark forces which would imprison us in the fictional voids, catch us up in the vivid lies, trap us in a vicious circle of doubt and self-laceration. We must navigate between the Charybdis and Scylla of the Unreal, reweaving the thin scarlet thread of light which can invent again the possibility of actualizing a life worth living on this green world floating in the sea of an open Void.

Ballard would discover a new technique to broker this mayhem of daily illusions:

“…the only point of reality was our own minds. It seemed to me that the only way to write about all this was to meet the landscape on its own terms. Useless to try to impose the conventions of the nineteenth-century realistic novel on this incredible five-dimensional fiction moving around us all the time at high speed. And I tried to develop – and I think successfully – a technique of mine, the so-called condensed novels, where I was able to cross all these events, at right angles if you like. Like cutting through the stem of a plant to expose the cross-section of its main vessels. So this technique was devised to deal with this fragmentation and overlay of reality, through the fragmentation of narrative.”

Living in a fragmented reality the only proper narrative is itself to break these fragments into a multiplicity; opening the hall of mirrors, exposing the disjoined pieces of this blasted zone to analysis and explication; exegesis. Ballard admitted that like most fiction his was concerned with one main figure: “I suppose he’s a version of myself. It’s a journey towards myself – I suppose all writing is.”

As Simon Sellars in his own send up and homage to a life long obsession with Ballard has his character comment,

‘If configured correctly, Ballard argues, the new narrative becomes a type of survival tactic. “The most prudent and effective method of dealing with the world around us,” he says, “is to assume that it is a complete fiction—conversely, the one small node of reality left to us is inside our own heads.” If misconfigured, of course, psychosis ensues, a precipice that Winfrey and Jagger almost stumbled over when they stopped just short of allowing media simulations to replace reality—indeed, to replace themselves.’2

This sense that there is a fine line between production of reality and its fanatical replacement by the screen-worlds of this mass-media generated matrix that has replaced reality with its hyperreal black box of social control. Living in a world become fiction the only logical way of survival is to unravel the matrix, unplug from its fantasies and once again actualize our own realities from the spinal landscapes of our mind. The truth of what Ballard was saying in the sixties is even more so now in our late age of psychosis:

“The media landscape of the present day is a map in search of a territory. A huge volume of sensational and often toxic imagery inundates our minds, much of it fictional in content. How do we make sense of this ceaseless flow of advertising and publicity, news and entertainment, where presidential campaigns and moon voyages are presented in terms indistinguishable from the launch of a new candy bar or deodorant? What actually happens on the level of our unconscious minds when, within minutes on the same TV screen, a prime minister is assassinated, an actress makes love, an injured child is carried from a car crash? Faced with these charged events, prepackaged emotions already in place, we can only stitch together a set of emergency scenarios, just as our sleeping minds extemporize a narrative from the unrelated memories that veer through the cortical night. In the waking dream that now constitutes everyday reality, images of a blood-spattered widow, the chromium trim of a limousine windshield, the stylised glamour of a motorcade, fuse together to provide a secondary narrative with very different meanings.”
― J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition

Lost in the funhouse of modernity, unraveling the puppet strings from the puppet, we wander the inscapes of our personal narratives like missionaries of forgotten realities. Troubled by the fragmented scripts thrown at us each day we struggle to assume our lives, thinking we are real when in truth we’ve become the bit players in a false Reality TV Series playing out the timeless scenarios of hidden powers whose only interest in our wasted lives is to extract the little energy and riches our pound of flesh holds. Mere puppets in a kingdom of death we seek a way out, finding none we turn to religion or philosophy not realizing that these too are tools in the hands of the controller; systems of reason and unreason, alike, that offer neither solace nor reprieve, only the likeness of its temptation. Lost among the fragments of reality we must once again step from the Outside in, wander the halls of our own mirror worlds till we find that secret door into the Real.


  1. Extreme Metaphors by J.G. Ballard, editor Simon Sellars.
  2. Sellars, Simon. Applied Ballardianism: Memoir From a Parallel Universe . Urbanomic Media Ltd.. Kindle Edition.