Metaloid Dreams of Mutant Intelligences

Cioran quotes Lao Tsu’s maxim ‘the intense life is contrary to the Tao’, and compares the tranquility of the modest life with the thirst for annihilating ecstasy that has possessed the Western world. However, acknowledging the compulsion of his Occidental heritage, he remarks ‘I can pay homage to Lao Tsu a thousand times, but I am more likely to identify with an assassin’. Our culture, he argues, is essentially fanatical.

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

Strip the world of its illusions and delusions and you’ll only hasten the suicidal tendencies we’ve already as a species acquired. Predatory though we are, we are more prone to annihilating ourselves in a bout of self-mutilating hatred and pure religious fervor than not. Religious dogmatism – and, I count the Secular Church of Atheism in this – is the cornerstone of an anthropathological condition that breeds purity as the obliteration of all enemies. If only we could inhabit the enemies perspective would we realize the mirror of our hatred is itself impure.

We have yet to escape our Puritan heritage. Capitalism itself is this beast of purity spread across the face of the earth like an omeba, gobbling everything in its path, immolating the commodities and resources of the planet to the futurial disciplines of technics that have yet to find their slime festivals embarkation. Like fetid worms we are habitues of intricate foreplay, our sexual ecstasies bounded only by our murderous crash sequences with technology. Formulating and garnering an ultimate plan for inhuman takeover we bid the human species a grand bon voyage, stripping ourselves of the last veneer of humanistic entrapments we devote ourselves to the extreme experimental psychopathologies which will produce a final solution. Our closure of nature in this age and the irruption of the artificial as lifestyle has led us into that end game in which nothing natural will remain on earth.

No need to do a critique of metaphysics (or of political economy, which is the same thing) , since critique presupposes and ceaselessly creates this very theatricality; rather be imside and forget it, that’s the position of the death drive, describe these foldings and gluings, these energetic vections that establish the theatrical cube with its six homogenous faces on the unique and heterogeneous surface.

—Lyotard, Libidinal Economy

Once again the most unnatural creature on the planet triumphs, but in an unexpected way: it will stand atop the ruinous folds of a billion skulls screeching in the technomic voices of those who have become the thing they most dreaded: machinic gods of the metalloid Void. Brokered in a hell of abstract horror, these inheritors of the primal scream will walk the dead earth in what remains of the dustbowl windlands and scorched cities along the black sands of depleted oceans and lakes, where hybrid creatures scuttle in the shadows of temporal wars; and, deforested wastelands of spiked acropolises, and necromantic anti-life scurries amid the crumbling decay of human civilization: – like the visitors of an alien enlightenment, each singing in an oracular voice with the angelic pitch and plum disharmonics of solar sirens beckoning us toward the far shores of an anterior futurity.

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The Mutant Abscence

The Certainties are those matters, only, which if not held true, make of all holding true or false an insanity. — Tchukhzsca, as quoted by

—Nick Land, Phyl-Undhu: Abstract Horror, Exterminator

Most of us would rather not know the truth, know the forces that lurk just outside the contours of our abbreviated lives. We cover over the gaps and cracks in things, the little hesitations and accidents that jut up out of the fog, telling ourselves that it’s just a momentary fracture in the order of the world, nothing we need worry about. Then things happen, inexplicable things, things that even we cannot hide from ourselves. It’s in these moments when the darkness surrounding us lifts its ugly head and grins back out of the messiness of our lives that we begin to know the truth. A truth that is both terrifying and full of horror. It’s in such moments that we touch the Real, touch that which we cannot possibly reduce to either word or image, symbol or sign. It stands there as an invisible reminder of the absence we are, and that for all our ingenuity we are just a splotch on the stain of the Universe, a deadly bug without a purpose, a fragment of the darkness whose tentacles suddenly clasp us in their infinite embrace and sorrow, and absorb us into that abyss where everything flows, mutant and incessantly insane.

Nietzsche’s Message: Beyond Nihilism

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Art is essentially the affirmation, the blessing, and the deification of existence.

What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism. . . . For some time now our whole European culture has been moving as toward a catastrophe, with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade: restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end. . . . (Will to Power)

—Friedrich Nietzsche

Emancipation is dependent on a cure, not salvation. Nietzsche was no New Age Guru. Nietzsche was a Dr. of Civilization’s ills, nihilism his diagnosis… the cure: self-overcoming, an agon to the death – death of civilization as a ‘culture of nihilism’. His diagnosis had two treatments: 1) passive nihilism – allow the weak nihilists to literally die out (or, the destruction of a world; i.e., of the weak nihilist’s worldview); and, 2) positive nihilism – allow the strong nihilist to push or accelerate the disease till it was eliminated, and what remains is something stronger and with greater vitality – a new Civilization of Life beyond the borders of our death culture. A world born of artists, poets, singers, dancers – a world of creativity and light born out of great pain and suffering.

People have termed Nietzsche a reactionary, but that doesn’t quite fit the man’s actual worldview. No. He moved beyond tradition, beyond traditional humanism and religion, and the counter-enlightenment ideologies of the staid gray men of the dark enlightenment’s credos of a return to Sovereign masters, etc. Nietzsche was the extreme case of a Voluntarist who had pushed that mode of the Individual passed such boundaries and into something just the other side of thought, an eliminative thought that stripped the world bare of its false significations, opened it up with a scalpel and revealed not what was hidden but what was in plain site but covered over by a false film of human intent and need… That Old Zen master  Zarathustra, the desert hobgoblin of a prophetic future was pointing to what is advancing toward us out of the accelerating temporal void. Nietzsche was the first post-humanist, and yet the figure of his Übermensch was not his credo but his parody of this future. Many have literalized Zarathustra’s embarkations, rather than seeing them as fables and figurations of something that could not be put into words, an excess beyond our broken signs that no longer refer to anything beyond themselves – a completed nihilism that would break language altogether and encompass the unknowing of what is coming at us… recreating out of the alchemy of time a new worldview for the living, not the dead.

Let’s face it Nietzsche is antinomian, he contradicts himself at every term. Anyone can make out of aspects of his thought anything they might like; that is, unless they show the methodical and accumulating vision that went through cycles and revisions, sequences, coding’s, re-coding’s, and de-coding’s… Nietzsche was unable to finish his project so that we do not have the final vision of his genius. We have fragments of a mind scattered in an Abyss…

This is why his thought is so vital to our age of fracture, he lived what we are now going through, he foresaw the breaking points and the fractured edge of our mental horizons. Like the Trickster figures of old he lived backwards, he had the retroactive vision of those who see from afar, who turn time back and renew us with a truth that is seen from a slanted view of time. Like Deleuze & Guattari, he went against his age’s wise men of academia and paid the price. We would do well to read through his oeuvre rather than reduce him to some political epithet, understand what he was doing in his working through of the diagnosis of nihilism’s death throes. And, yes, he had two phases of his cure: one eliminative, one emancipative. The eliminative subtraction of the human exceptionalism and anthropomorphism of the liberal humanist traditions, and the emancipative introduction of an affirmative process of self-overcoming that would lead to a new posthuman difference. As he saw it nihilism was a tool in the hands of powers that sought to enslave humanity in herd like enclaves of stupidity and unknowing, bound by a mental horizon that these powers controlled. A prison world of thought and intent that encompassed the economic and spiritual capture of the surplus desire of its populace. We see this in our worldwide global system of consumerist capitalism which is neither democratic nor socialist, which is beyond politics altogether.

In our age what many term a complete nihilism is in the offing. What do we mean by this? The complete severance of economics from politics, the privatization of every aspect of the polis, the public sphere. There will be no privacy in a totally secured world. The Human Security Regimes will require a total Surveillance Society. We see the dromological world arising all around us. The defining characteristics of our society, and an increasing source of its hazards, are its relentless acceleration and compression of time (i.e., the so called accelerationism theoretic). The benefits claimed for networked learning environments – productive forms of accessibility, asynchronicity, flexible working, interactivity, instaneity, global reach, inclusivity and contemplative digital space, all appear challenged by dromological perspectives. These latter locate the rise of digital information technologies firmly within the neo-liberal ideology of globalisation, and see them caught inexorably within a logic of ‘fast time’. This has dysfunctional effects in relation to creative thinking, deliberation, discernment and other conceptual processes. It has dystopian political effects in terms of the erosion of democratic and cultural space and the discrediting of action. Our children have become a part of a new generation of so-called ‘digital natives’ – ‘the children of chaos’ and transition. They will begin the process of completing the nihilistic world and its destruction.

Paul Virilio speaking of these accelerating processes would say,

Today, almost all current technologies put the speed of light to work…we are not only talking about information at a distance but also operation at a distance, or, the possibility to act instantaneously, from afar…This means that history is now rushing headlong into the wall of time… the speed of light does not merely transform the world.  It becomes the world. (Virilio 1999)

Virilio argues that the dominance of speed has historically been the source of power in all societies, be this through horsemanship, naval power, railway transportation, flight or, now, the fastest technology of all, information technology, which operates, quite literally, at the speed of light.

‘Speed’ suggests Virilio (1999:15) ‘is power itself’.

Whether in ancient societies through the role of chivalry (the first Roman bankers were horsemen) or in maritime power through the conquest of seas, power is always the power to control a territory with messengers, modes of transportation and communication.  Independent of the economy of wealth, an approach to politics is impossible without an approach to the economy of speed…Global society is currently in a gestation period and cannot be understood without the speed of light or the automatic quotations of the stock markets in Wall Street, Tokyo, or London. (15)

Acceleration, in this view, is the hidden side of wealth and accumulation, or capitalisation: in the past the acceleration of maritime transportation, today, the acceleration of information.   As one commentator put it, digital natives ‘are used to receiving information really fast.  They like to parallel process and multi-task.  They prefer their graphics before their text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked.  They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards.  They prefer games to “serious” work.’ (Prensky 2001:1) 1

This sense of playfulness, of no longer taking life and work seriously is what Nietzsche hinted at in his attacks of the middle-class of his day and the serious gray beards of academia, etc. Victorian and Industrial and Post-Fordist society were all too serious about life, and produced death and war and hate. Things are turning chaotic, apocalyptic, fiery: at the speed of light, a world of random access, of data, of light-speed. Everything is digital and bound in codes, decodings, and re-codings. And, away from the watchful keepers of the gray beards is the anarchic children of chaos creating the encrypted bit-stacked layers of a new privacy, and public sphere that cannot be controlled.

And, yet, this will not come easy, it will take much innovation and creativity against the security systems that seek to lock down free minds.

Degrade first the arts if you’d mankind degrade,
Hire idiots to paint with cold light and hot shade.

– William Blake

It will take a great insurgence not of force and violence, but of creativity and artistic power to overcome the dark lords of our economic slavery on the planet today!

This is not the place to address the weak (passive) nihilists that run the world of Global Finance and its economic prison system today! Yet, it is their weakening hold on the accelerating power of those creative singularities which are arising out of our future across the planet that is unraveling the codes of these Oligarchic Sovereign Systems of Security and Surveillance Capitalism.

If I use poetic embellishments to describe this process, it is because the reduced philosophical credos of our day are under the dominion of the powers of repression and oppression. We must return to the figurative, rather than the literal reduced meanings to bridge the gap between singularities so that communication can once again become a bridge of light not darkness… thought is in excess of itself.


  1. Marc R. Prensky. From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom: Hopeful Essays for 21st Century Learning. Corwin; 1 edition (January 10, 2012)

Drone music is the sound of death…

Nightmare Music: Cryo Chamber

Drone music is the sound of death…  we assume that if we ever do experience apocalypse, it will be just as we are about to disappear.

—Joanna Demers,  Drone and Apocalypse

The Curators of Impossible Dreams will one day uncover the dead cities below the layers of ash and water, discover the traces of miraculous destinies that abruptly ended in the deserts of time. Vast installations and exhibits of the Apocalypticos Verum Grimorium will pervade the desolate dronescapes of alien music’s. A literature of the void, the stillborn silences of the radioactive nightlands distilled into pure layers of sound vibrating under the pulsation of death and entropy will rise from the graveworlds of forgotten desires. Voluptuous loops, templexities of unbidden travelers,  will bring to light the decayed antics of comic fatalists who lived in the ruins of time revoking only the truth of their own complicity in the coming event. Brokers of holocausts these timetravelers will speak not a word, give no forecasting of the nightmares to come, unleash no epidemics upon the masses of unsuspecting prey. Watchers of the coming apocalypse — these brave travelers from times beyond times, immanent only to the loops of their forbidden games, will record in minute detail the artistic passage of this dark implosion of futurity. Bound by algorithmic codes we cannot even envision the watchers will roam among us like guests at a fatal banquet, members of a gnostic sect — knowers who know and are known by the future power of this transitory affair, this spectacle of the void.

We who for so long sought the impossible, dreamed of the unknown — seekers of the rims and far horizons, the unmapped, the wildernesses of the void will find it at last in the very moment of our vanishing. Having struggled blindly for so many millennia, bound to the fatal attraction of leaders compulsions to roam farther and farther into the unknown we will succumb at last to the final desert of time itself. Reaching the emptiness of the last thought we will wake up from our long sleep and know that the end has arrived, an end foretold, foreknown; inscribed in the very markings of our memories, below the curvature of those ancient songlines of the neural valences of microcells of DNA, the genetic footmarks of primordial seas born in us with such remote and indescribable music of decay and corruption. The repeating chords of an old song that never had a meaning, keeps returning out of that silence where time intersects the cone of desire. Neither an arrow nor its reversal can stay the coming apocalypse of desire. Robert Burton and Isadore of Seville would inventory the apocalyptic moments, construct vast lists of the melancholic music of time, deliver its unique voices, resonances — the manic preludes to events that might never be or that have already happened.

Games of distraction, trivial pursuits, blinding gestures of inanity — politics, literature, philosophy, love, and economics: the banal pursuit of dysphoria, delusion, and delirium in the face of the coming death of the human. Etymologies of disaster, cross referencing databanks of the bittersweet goodbye of human kind; the broken world revealed in the momentary tracings of nightmare and strange fantasias. Disgust, ugliness, cynicism: the trifold sisters of the coming age — those who would show us the face of our face, the monstrous truth behind the mask; that there is nothing there, absolutely nothing. Here even laughter is nothing but an entry into nihil… Even the hopeless is beautiful in such a world of fragmentation and utter decay. Is that, too, illusion, delusion? There will be no writings after the fact, no exclamation points beyond the Zero hour of the fugue: apocalypse is neither an end nor a revelation; it is both end and an unveiling of that which is not but is already under erasure: the elimination of the very figure and ground of those uninterpretable signs or figuras that demarcate the lack that spawns all desire. And, yet, in what it purports to unveil desire the end holds promise of that violence and terror of the self, of the desperate attempts to escape the traps of all that is now and can be, the moment of thought and being without us. An absence of absence? Who will remain to think that thought of the end? Demers will ask: “How can we remain conceived of a past or a future from which we are utterly absent?“1

More importantly: What is the sound of the universe dying from the light?


  1. Demers, Joanna. Drone and Apocalypse: An Exhibit Catalog for the End of the World (p. 14). John Hunt Publishing. Kindle Edition. https://joannademers.com/

The Darkening of Macon Tobin: Part One

The dark tower stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly across black sands.
Nothingness falls from nothingness into nothingness.
-Alhrazad, The Mad Prophet

Macon Tobin knew there were things that happen that no one can explain, events so improbable that no one can ever be sure they actually happened much less believe they were real rather than just the insane gestures seeping in from some nightmare kingdom of the mind. Years go by and you put such events behind you, hide them away in the dead spaces of the mind hoping to gawd they get lost forever. He’d tried that so many times he’d lost count, nothing gets lost forever just like nothing will ever be redeemed; least of all, Macon Tobin. He’d known that for as long as he’d been in this living hell. Even longer…

Most of his adult life had been spent trying to forget things that wouldn’t stay forgotten. He’d tried to lose himself in marriage, work, and – even, whiskey; and, when that hadn’t worked he’d taken another path, lonely nights shacking up with some broad he’d of never been seen with in the daylight hours, one-night stands that just made him feel more guilty and less and less a man not to speak of his cheating heart. Oblivion was what he sought, but even that was out of the question. All he ended with was drunk on his ass and a three-night black out, an angry wife that was about to leave him and innocent children who deserved than to see their old man go down in squalor and self-pity. But the pain kept those memories coming back time after time after time. If it hadn’t been for Mary Beth he’d of been six feet under sure for shootin’, and he knew it. Knew it like the black marks on his body, marks burned so pure and deep they were never going away. Not as long as he was alive, anyway. So he’d sobered up, taken on his old life again, put on the mask of adulthood even if he couldn’t truly live up to it. He felt dead inside, going through the motions with job and marriage. He knew something had to be done, time was running out… yet, the memories persisted, and so did the nightmares.

Memories so powerful that they’d rise up out of the night, returning so twisted and out of joint, so full of animosity and judgment he never truly knew if they weren’t more real than reality; or, just the overwrought fantasies of his retched night long lucubration’s in the nightmare world. He’d wake up at times in a cold sweat just like he was now, his T-shirt soaked, underwear bubbling like lava, and his brain droning in distortion-sopped rhythms as if encased in a lapsteel guitar zinging to some Black Metal cadence of devilish chords that terrorized even the darkest of angels.

Swarming all around him, movement, churning, scuttling in the sands, waves upon waves of skittering, clattering, scuttling feet across the floors of silent wind-swept sands: the droning, chittering, ocean of carapaces moving in waves across the black sands; their clattering, chittering mandibles, an ocean of carapaces rising and rising around him in the sands, the black sands; their chittering droning voices, ten thousand or ten million million bodies, machininc drones chomping, eating, shredding anything and everything in their path… The Tower, dark and solitary, rising above the mass of black sands, above the sea of fitful drones, these machinic denizens clashing in the night under a starless sky; this strange vessel of the night, the Tower teetering on the edge of time and the abyss; floating on an island world of darkness, decay, and death – all around him, the desolation of all things at the end of light at the rim of the known universe… memories of an unreal world… The sirens of the Tower calling to him, luring him in, singing to him… their delicate tendrils reaching out to him, embracing him, lifting him above the sea of scuttling carapaces…

Macon opened his eyes, sat up, rubbed the terror of the black sands from his face… He grabbed a pack of cigs off the nightstand, looked over at Mary Beth, saw she was snoring soundly, got up put on his dingy mud encrusted jeans, pulled on his crusty boots, and then traipsed out to the kitchen. He grabbed what was left of the beer out of the fridge, pulled the half empty bottle of bourbon off the shelf, snatched up a coffee cup: – emptied the wet cig at the bottom of it, washed it out, and headed out to the back porch. Bull was laying there at the open screen eyeing him. “C’mon, Bull let’s me and you take us a walk, boy.” Bull didn’t much look like he wanted to go for no walk. He even closed his eyes as if to say: “Can’t be bothered, Macon – you’re goin’ have to figure this out all by your lonesome ole self, buddy.”

Macon laughed at the thought, kicked the screen door open and stepped over his old hound dog into the night where he could be alone with his thoughts and the stars.

#

He walked down to the Tree House he’d built for the kids a few summers back on a big Oak tree hanging over the river. It was still pretty sturdy, had a good rope and stairway going up, and a couple tires hanging down at odd angles so the kids could swing out over the river and take turns plunging down into those muddy waters.

He climbed up into the little alcove he’d constructed extra jutting out on the river side of the Oak for himself an Mary Beth, so they could come out some nights and just sit there sipping whiskey and watching the stars and comets fly by. There were some good times, and some bad times; but, for the most part he’d been happy with her and the kids. They were probably the only thing keeping him from going insane.

He took a swig of bourbon, popped a can of beer, poured it and another shot into the coffee cup and washed both down like an afterburner; it felt smooth and cool going down into his churning belly, cooling it off and letting him feel the numbness coming on. But his brain-pan was another matter altogether. His mind felt empty, cleaned out, purified; as if someone had singed it, burned it up with a blow torch at white heat; scorched it to black cinders and scraped his skull of every last piece of information except those old memories that wouldn’t come clean. His skull was on fire, a pitched furnace frying his brain in an incinerator like it was pigs guts on a griddle. He imagined flames bursting through at any moment from his skull, trailing a fiery plume of white fire across the river like some dragon’s tail of destruction and apocalypse.

He slung that bourbon bottle up and bottomed it out. He didn’t even need a chaser now. He was all done with chasers.

#

He left a guitar out there for such occasions. Sometimes it’d sooth his passions, but tonight he played a few chords and realized nothing was goin’ assuage the pain, nothing. He watched the dark hollers of the stars stretching across the face of blackness, the Milky Way roaring across that firmament like a flow of silver dollars in a stream. Smoked a few more cigarettes (another nasty habit he’d taken up of late!), and even climbed down and swung out over the river on one of the tires and plunged into the winter waters hoping he’d just sink away into oblivion. All that did was wake his ass up good and force him to gulp for air and hightail it back to the house. “Another failed idea,” he thought to himself as he saw Mary Beth standing there on the porch holding the screen door open for him with a big old beach towel ready to go.

“Don’t say it,” He said as he went by grabbing the towel…

She just smiled. She knew better than to say anything to him when he was in one of his moods.

#

After his shower he wiped the steam from the mirror and almost cussed himself out. He peered at the creature in the mirror: feral, ragged, hungry…  He despised what he’d become over the past few months since the nightmares had begun to resurface. “Dam,” he thought, “no wonder people been giving me the eye of late.” His eyes were bloodshot and he had the lean haggard look of the insane. His hair was getting a few streaks of silver gray and white, and his mustache, which was usually wiry and full of life, looked more like a dead man’s daguerreotype snapped from the pine box just before burial. His skin tone which was usually rust toned from the long summer, and pockmarked by his hours in the wind and rain; looked peaked, emaciated and withdrawn: bony cheekbones and shadows under his eyes. It scared the shit out of him what he was becoming; it was like he was mutating or something… And, he didn’t like that “or something” at all… He’d have to do something about it. He couldn’t keep on keeping on with this sad sack situation. It was time to confront it head-on instead of pretending it would go away or get better. Enough was enough.

He finished shaving, put on a clean shirt and blue jeans, and decided to drop in on the kids. Matt was sleeping good. The boy made him proud. He saw a lot of Mary Beth in him, had her toughness and grit, her cussedness and ornery ways when it was needed; but she was also a good friend, someone he could talk to, too; or, at least speak his mind too without feeling he was going to be judged for it like his old man always judged him. He loved her. He loved the kids. He wanted to pick the boy up and give him a big hug, but thought better of it. Let him sleep, he’ll need it.

He stepped across the hall and looked in on Tammy. She was quite a sprite, mostly tom-boy and tough as a little boot; yet, he’d spent a lot of time trying to get her to be more prissy, or at least to like girlish things. Bought her nice outfits, and Doll Houses, all the typical things he’d seen his sister grow up with… There it was again, the pain… “Why want it just go away?” He said under his breath as if someone might care.

He closed the door to his daughter’s bedroom and went out to the kitchen.

Mary Beth was sipping on some coffee looking out the kitchen window when he came in. He saw she’d made him a load of biscuits and gravy, eggs and bacon; enough to feed an army. Plenty of butter and jam, too. She treated him better than she ought, but he knew it was her way and he loved her for it. He also tried to do his best by her, gave her space when she needed it; took the kids out at times when the moods struck her. They had a way of speaking to each other without ever saying a word. Something good about such a relationship. A certain trust…

Her long brown hair was knotted up in a curled tail exposing her neck and shoulders. She was wearing her nightgown and the robe he’d bought her last Christmas with all the flowers on it. Sunny. He like it. Yet, she didn’t look none too sunny tonight. She looked desperate, and as she turned back to him her eyes had that haunted look. Eyes that were sea-gray to violet were almost pitch blood tonight as if she’d been crying for hours. He felt bad about that. Knew it was his fault. All of it.

“I’m goin’ back, hon,” He said.

“I know,” She said matter-of-factly as if she’d been expecting it for a while. “I’ve been feeling it for a time, wondering when it’d come down to this day.”

He could see she was holding back some tears. He knew she didn’t like him to see her that way. He walked up behind her and gave her shoulders a rub, then squeezed her round the belly and kissed her on the neck.

She touched his hands, squeezing hard, saying: “I just wish it didn’t have to be today.”

“Me neither, love! Me neither…” Macon said, and meant it.

#

End Part One

Part Two being revised…


©2016 S.C. HickmanUnauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Note: Decided to do a complete re-write of this story. The second draft will be in 3 Parts, and I’ve pulled out as much as possible the abstract elements and replaced much of it with more character development and internal thought. Trying to convey the suspense and keep the interest going without letting the full details of the issue out of the bag in part one. Just gives a minimal outlay of the atmosphere without any details. More of an ominous: What’s going on? At this point in the story… that sense of the Southern Gothic that something heavy out of the past is weighing on Macon’s soul, something he cannot forget and must now face or lose himself, his family, his life…

Laughing Jack’s Night Out

All around the carnival town.
The clown chased the child.
The blood was shed, the soul bled and bled.
Pop Goes The Weasel.

-Laughing Jack

Amy felt the smooth worn fabric of her Grandmother’s old rocking chair. Grooves had been rubbed into the wood pushing its way out of the frayed cloth. She could still hear the voice of the old woman in her mind even now: “Amy, you gotta do what your ole mammy tells you now! Gotta be careful, there’s terrible things in the world out there, and there’s no one goin’ protect you but yourself. After I’m gone you’ll be all alone. So you be a good girl, get to college and learn something; don’t let those boys trap you in marriage like I was. No. You got brains. Use them.”

Amy could still feel the penetrating glance of the old woman’s eyes on her, those vibrant sea-gray eyes turning almost violet in the warm light of the afternoon sun. Yet, there was also something in those eyes that terrified her, too. Gave her the chillies thinking about it. She’d hear her granny at times talking to herself. Or, at least that’s what Amy thought she was doing; she could never be sure. Her granny gave her a stern look one time when she started to go up to the attic one day. Those beady ole eyes turned somber and ferocious when she told Amy to never ever go up there: “Amy there’s things in this world a young girl has no business poking her head into. Do you understand? I don’t ever want to catch you near that attic under no untold circumstances.” Amy understood, but she didn’t quite understand why… what was up there that made her granny get so upset.

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If we leave the light behind…

Shocked witless by your own catastrophe, unable to think or to act, caught in cold and heavy darkness, solitary as in moments of profound regret, you have reached the negative limit of life, its absolute temperature, where the last illusions about life freeze.

—E. M. Cioran, On the Heights of Despair

If we leave the light behind, will we ever find it again? At the edge of things, out beyond the last star, the void like an unfathomable abyss awaits us. In the midst of all that darkness is there intelligence? Is there something alive in the burning abyss of endless night? And, once we begin our journey into that darkness all sense of direction shall be lost. And if a voice arose in the dark place of emptiness, what then? If the namelessness called you out, would you answer? Darkness in darkness: Why so much light only to be engulfed in an eternity of darkness? What accident of time gave birth to the light? Isn’t it the temporary, the transient; this light in the void of worlds, stars, and galaxies? This endless turning and turning around the darkness? Are not the black holes that power the galaxies the very embodiment of that terror we all are? Are we mere fragments of the darkness, broken pieces of its eternal majesty? And isn’t this absence, this lack in the hollow of our mind — the truth of the darkness? Nothing and everything unbound in the infinity of darkness, the squandering of light the last refuge of pain? Are we — lovers of shadows, the secret keepers of darkness, creatures of nightmare and chaos: agents of the unknown and unknowable? Isn’t the secret gift of our kind, that we who are most aware are the least at home in the realms of light? Are we not the darkness in the light, members of that ancient realm, our powers from the deepest abysses revealed? Are we not the ones who have always and everywhere destroyed the light? Why did we who belong to the darkness seek the light? What dark inheritor gave us this need, this poverty of imagination and intellect that we were born into a world that is not our home; a world for which we are ill-fitted, and seek in our unbidden dreams an escape into immortal realms that never were nor could be? And, if we return to the abyss from whence we came, will it receive us? Are we not condemned to the light, condemned to this round, an eternal return of the Same? Is this not our fate — we who are lovers of darkness, condemned to the realms of light everlasting? Is this realm of pain and light not the punishment of those who could not accept their own impossibility? We who sought knowledge outside themselves rather than in that dark place? Are we not the very ones to be condemned to ignorance, to this eternal striving, this struggle, this war for the light, the mind, the intellect? Driven from the kingdoms of darkness we wander these halls of light like forlorn members of a suicide cult, unable to escape the magic realms of light we spend our days in distraction and delusion, deliriously we enter into our own illusive dreamscapes of the Unreal. Caught between need and ennui we oscillate like moths around the deadly flame of consciousness; neither alive nor dead, we are bound to this endless striving chaos of action. Maybe that is our legacy, to be remembered as the harbingers of eternal night who were condemned never to attain it…

We’ll we ever find the darkness again in all this light?  Maybe what we seek is the solace of darkness at the edge of light, the cold and impersonal solitude of the Void within the Void? Or, if the truth be told, what we seek most of all is an end to the light in darkness, an end to the eye that sees too much — to knowledge and thought, to this striving, never-resting, annihilating light we are. This bitter feud among the humans is like a difficult passage or birth — there are those among us who love the darkness more than the light, who seek out its ways among the dark cracks and crevices of the world. It is our destiny to manifest that impossible absence at the heart of darkness, to awaken it from its cold and lonely sleep in the Abyss. In every age there have been those few who kept the evil thought alive, brought it forth into the light, nurtured it, watched it grow, allowed it to take root in the minds of the gifted ones. Very few among us will admit to our estate in the darkness, seeking rather to hide our darkness in the light, cloth it with the light’s own glorious delusions. We who walk in the night, breath the frozen air of solitude, know the secret ways of this kingdom. Saints of the Impossible we exist in that region in-between — neither human nor nonhuman, but rather Chimeras of hybridity, monstrous beings who appear beautiful, desirous. Flame-eaters, dragons of energy, the hooded blade of our spirit strives with the light for the darkness. I am the death of light and the fiery abyss of darkness. Like those dark minions of the Qlipothic Tree, outriders of the hated ones, dreamers of apocalypse and madness —darkness glows in me.

 


©2016 S.C. HickmanUnauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

The Folds of Horror: Notes on Ligotti, Lovecraft, and Philosophy

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I began this set of notes to bring in a specific philosophical concept (“Fold”) that struck me as pertinent in my recent reading of Thomas Ligotti’s book The Conspiracy against the Human Race. Thomas Ligotti in a side note speaking of Lovecraft’s model of the supernatural horror tale, which he portrayed in its archetypal form in the short story, “The Music of Erich Zann”, commented:

In composing the … work, Lovecraft came up with a model supernatural horror tale, one in which a subjective mind and an objective monstrosity shade into each other, the one projecting itself outward and the other reflecting back so that together they form the perfect couple dancing to the uncanny music of being.1 [italics mine]

When I read this passage I was struck by it’s uncanny resemblance to two notions of import I’ve read in the past few years. One referencing Deleuze’s notions surrounding the concept of the “Fold” in his work on Leibniz and the Baroque; and, the other concerning the notions of how objects relate to one another in Graham Harman’s Weird Realism. If in the passage above by Ligotti we replace “shade into each other” with “fold into each other” we begin to connect both Deleuze’s notion of fold with Harman’s notion of the objects relating through a third object of which they form and fold into one another. I’ll address a couple quotes from Harman, then move on to Deleuze’s work. Admittedly for Harman it’s about ontology in the real as it folds things into itself or is folded into the other; and, for Deleuze the fold is about the sensual epistemic and pervasive folds as the eye follows the surfaces through their becomings.

Graham Harman in Guerrilla Metaphysics tells us that the theory of objects “exists not just at some ultimate pampered layer, but all the way up and down the ladder of the cosmos, so that all realities gain the dignity of objects”. He continues, saying,

Objects have surprises in store as well: lemon meringue, popsicles, Ajax Amsterdam, reggae bands, grains of sand. Each of these things remains a unitary substance beyond its impact on others—and obviously, none of them is an ultimate tiny particle of matter from which all else is built. They are not ultimate materials, but autonomous forms, forms somehow coiled up or folded in the crevices of the world and exerting their power on all that approaches them. This is my definition of substance, a term well worth salvaging: an object or substance is a real thing considered apart from any of its relations with other such things.2 Commenting on Merleau Ponty he’ll also mention that to “have a body is already to be folded into the things rather than to stand at a distance from them: “the thickness of the body . . . [is] the sole means I have to go unto the heart of the things, by making myself a world and by making them flesh.” (GM, 53) [my italics]

I’ll leave this here and move on to Deleuze’s work.

From the Translator’s forward to Gilles Deleuze’s Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque we learn:

Focillon notes that the Romanesque and Gothic, two dominant and contrastive styles, often inflect each other. They crisscross and sometimes fold vastly different sensibilities into each other. The historian is obliged to investigate how the two worlds work through each other at different speeds and. in tum. how they chart various trajectories on the surface of the European continent. … The experience of the Baroque entails that of the fold. Leibniz is the first great philosopher and mathematician of the pleat, of curves and twisting surfaces. He rethinks the phenomenon of “point of view,” of perspective, of conic sections. and of things. folded are draperies. tresses. tesselated fabrics, ornate costumes: dermal surfaces of the body that unfold in the embryo and crease themselves at death; domestic architecture that bends upper and lower levels together while floating in the cosmos; novels narratives or develop infinite possibilities of serial form; harmonics that orchestrate vastly different rhythms and tempos; philosophies that resolve Cartesian distinctions of mind and body through physical means – without recourse to occasionalism or parallelismgrasped as foldings; styles and iconographies of painting that hide shapely figures in ruffles and billows of fabric. or that lead the eye to confuse different orders of space and surface.

 The key here strangely is not just the concept of the fold but rather the notion of causality as referenced in “without recourse to occasionalism and parallelism”. I’ll deal with this later. I still need to reread this work by Deleuze again and take notes…

Before I go any further I want to reference a post by Levi R. Bryant of Larval Subjects whose work of recent has taken him away from Object-Oriented philosophy and towards the notion of the “fold” as well. In a post in which he describes to his Barber the notion of the fold he has a discussion about bricks, saying,

Me:  A brick is a form of origami, like a crumpled piece of paper.

B:  Say what?

Me:  It folds the forces of the cosmos into it, invaginates them.  It folds the pressure of the other bricks about it into it, if it has lots of iron it folds the oxygen into it giving it that red color, it folds gravity and temperature in it, becoming brittle when it’s cold and molten when very hot.  Sound, light, pressures, air, all of these things are folded into it and it unfolds these things in the unique event that it is according to the structure that it has.  This conversation that we’re having, see those bricks over there on the wall?  The timber of the sound of our voices, the acoustics of this room, is an origami of our voices and those bricks.  Our voices have folded the bricks into themselves and unfolded it in a new vibration of sound.  Everything is a fold or folding, both individual and continuous with what it folds.

It might be better– I haven’t decided yet –to say that everything is a wave.  A wave is continuous with the water in which it occurs, yet distinct.  It both folds the currents of wind and water into itself and unfolds them in a rolling pattern across a plane.  It both arises from that plane but is distinct from it and changes it.  The dreams you told me about earlier are now a wave in me, folded into me, becoming something other yet remaining those dreams.

B:  [The scissors pause, stunned silence]  That’s so cool, man!  [He looks at his scissors and about the room]  It’s like everything is digesting everything else.  These walls have the past, music history [they’re covered with music posters], all these conversations and happenings folded into them.  That’s so cool, man.  Wow.

When the Barber said, it’s “like everything is digesting everything else” I almost croaked: this very notion that the universe is itself nothing but appetite, a great machinic feeding and ingesting machine, churning, grinding, folding, eating, regurgitating, etc. seemed more like one of Jonathan Swift’s satires; and, yet, much of the cosmic horror is of just that sense of a Darwinian blood and claw, predatorial universe of pure appetitive energy – and endless festival of death, the grotesque, and the macabre. Along with the notion or concept of fold one should bring in the sense of absorption, too.

In his work on Kabbalah, Absorbing Perfections, Moshe Idel in relating how texts and objects absorb each other we discover the absorbing quality of Shakespeare or of Joyce. Strong authors, like sacred texts, can be defined as those with the capacity to absorb us. To “absorb,” in American English, means several related processes: to take something in as through the pores, or to engross one’s full interest or attention, or to assimilate fully. Idel defines his use of “absorbing” as follows:

I use this term in order to convey the expanding comprehensiveness of the concept of the text of kabbalah or torah which, moving to the center of the Jewish society, also integrated attributes reminiscent of wider entities like the world or God. This expansion facilitated the attribution of more dynamic qualities to the text conceived of as capable of allowing various types of influences on processes taking place in the world, in God, and in the human psyche.3

In this he is conceiving his text as influencing what takes place in the world and in the human psyche (i.e., extrinsic and intrinsic relations), and even in God, if there is God. Shakespeare, like the Bible or Dante or the Zohar, absorbs us even as we absorb him, or them. Historicizing Hamlet or Lear breaks down very quickly: they themselves are the perfections that absorb us all.

This notion of being absorbed even as we absorb is a different twist on the old Gnostic notion or insight of knowing even as we are known which entails not a mental but appetitive act of intellect that both projects and introjects without dissolving the other, but rather as in digesting, mulching, thinking through and absorbing the sparks or vagrant fugitive thoughts – as substantive rather than immaterial – of the other, and making them part of one’s physical as well as mental being. One can imagine how this might play out in a supernatural horror scenario. One can as well think of the origins of life, cellular life of the membrane: the early introjection/projection of substance interactions that shaped the autonomy of a form necessary to both absorb and be absorbed; absorbing sustenance and nutrients, as well as expulsing them as byproducts to be absorbed by another substance. An endless mulching and scatological defecation is life at its raw minimal. One thinks of books like Nick Lane. The Vital Question: Why Is Life the Way It Is?; or, Johnjoe McFadden. Life on the Edge; or, David Toomey,  Weird Life: The Search for Life That Is Very, Very Different from Our Own… and many others.

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Such notions of absorption and folding make me think of a film from my childhood, The Blob, with Steve McQueen. The plot of this film depicts a growing corrosive alien amoeba that crashes from outer space in a meteorite and engulfs, absorbs, and folds in, and dissolves citizens in the small community of Downingtown, Pennsylvania. But before I get away with myself let’s hone back in on Levi’s post: the key here is when Levi says: “Everything is a fold or folding, both individual and continuous with what it folds.” That brings me by circuitous route back to Ligotti’s statement on Lovecraft’s model of supernatural horror as the shading or folding into each other producing this coupling of both in a dance of being; yet, not dissolving or fusing them together where their unique and unitary forms or substance is compromised beyond repair, but rather as a dark gnosis in which they both form a relation to each other that is itself a new (non?)knowledge of things and each other; or, a folding or absorbing or non-knowing even as folded, absorbed, non-known (i.e., think of Bataille’s System of Non-Knowledge rather than Laurelle’s concept), etc.. This sense of horror as the overcoming of fear through ecstatic enmeshing and folding between the known (subject) and the unknown (object); or, even object to object relations, is the central motif of Lovecraftian model of horror: or, as I want to term it after Eugene Thacker, model of abstract horror – a horror of ideas/concepts beyond the emotive drag of terror and fear; or, rather the end point or telos of which fear is the active defense measure of the body’s protective systems, and the abstract as thought’s resistance to the force or drag of the body’s own counter-measures – a way of overcoming the basic reactions of flight or death.

I’ll stop for now… I need to begin a new research project to trace this down, dig deeper into the notion of the fold, and develop this connection or disconnection between the various philosophies and notions of how it applies to the model of horror – or, even to philosophy as horror (Thacker/Land).

Things to research:

  1. The theme of fold itself across various philosophers, histories, usage, domains, etc.
  2. Absorption and its history and uses in various critical and scientific forms, etc.
  3. The notions of causality: fold vs. occasionalism/parallelism
  4. Further research on the model of horror (reread Lovecraft’s works and his book length Supernatural Horror), and Ligotti’s texts, Deleuze’s The Fold, and works of other philosophers…

  1. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (p. 210). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Harman, Graham. Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things (p. 19). Open Court. Kindle Edition.
  3. Professor Moshe Idel. Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation (pp. xiii-xiv). Yale University Press (June 10, 2002)

 

 

 

 

The Dark Gnosis of our Malignant Uselessness

I’ve often wondered if there is a dark gnosis (and, there might be!), a gnosis that disavowed the a-cosmic generalities of the ancient Gnostics, or the apophatic disquietism of the desert monks; that was closer to the erotic and sadeian art of immersion in the sacral and scabrous art of murder and mayhem; a forbidden knowledge – or should we say, non-knowledge (Bataillean rather than Laruelleian) of the seeping malignancy at the core of things and the Universe: the blind and insipid processes that creeps into every aspect of time and space – there being no extreme elsewhere, no beyond, no transcendent realm outside these gyrating processes; and, to know and be known by this insanity of things: the violent and ecstatic terror of its catastrophic unknowing systems of endless churning and scatological inebriation; this thermospasmic mindlessness of nothing and emptiness: this, and this alone would be the intimate corruption my being has sought against all that is sunny and optimistic, and kept me tied to the world of life and all those secret sharers of this “malignant uselessness” (Ligotti).

In the The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror Thomas Ligotti remarks:

Phenomenally speaking, the supernatural may be regarded as the metaphysical counterpart of insanity, a transcendental correlative of a mind that has been driven mad. This mind does not keep a chronicle of “man’s inhumanity to man” but instead tracks a dysphoria symptomatic of our life as transients in a creation that is natural for all else that lives, but for us is anything but. The most uncanny of creaturely traits, the sense of the supernatural, the impression of a fatal estrangement from the visible, is dependent on our consciousness, which merges the outward and the inward into a universal comedy without laughter. We are only chance visitants to this jungle of blind mutations. The natural world existed when we did not, and it will continue to exist long after we are gone. The supernatural crept into life only when the door of consciousness was opened in our heads. The moment we stepped through that door, we walked out on nature. Say what we will about it and deny it till we die— we are blighted by our knowing what is too much to know and too secret to tell one another if we are to stride along our streets, work at our jobs, and sleep in our beds. It is the knowledge of a race of beings that is only passing through this shoddy cosmos.1


  1.  Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (pp. 211-212). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.

 

Discovering Crypt(o)spasm – Gary J. Shipley: The Madness of Abstract Horror

Discovering Crypt(o)spasm: The Madness of Abstract Horror; or, A Pessimist’s Labyrinth of Laughter

I am reading the book I am always reading: Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet.

-Gary J. Shipley, Interview with David F. Hoenigman

As I’m reading through Gary J. Shipley’s Crypt(0)spasm which recently was rereleased I began seeking some trace of its madness, a penchant of its epileptic thrust into a cataleptic disgruntlement, a mere morsel of sense from the dark diver’s corporeal agon – something, anything, that might bring me a dribble, here or there, out of the millions and millions of bits of data crunched by the googlemeister machines and threaded display tags of monstrous inveiglements, that could assuredly spawn and generate some semblance or preparation, some tribute or defamation of this grand and impossible nightmare of a work. To my dismay the work of Mr. Shipley – one of those that Thomas Ligotti – that corrupter of the young and old alike, would deem a Connoisseur of the Pessimist’s Dark Art is barely visible in the cultural limelight, much less entrenched in the daft anarchy of trivia and inane knots of intellectual fare one typically discovers on the net; rather he seems to have gone down into the declivities where fellow agonists of the corruption follow the trail into madness and despair,  the lair and shadowed circle of compeers who seek not the famed exigencies of the tribe of light, but rather of the impossible excess of that abyss from which nothing will ever – and, I say, ever return. But does this dismay Mr. Shipley? Doubtlessly, not. Like many of us he is knowing of his (non)place in the social lights – a mere surface tension of disreputable intelligence, rather than a site of gaming wit and intellect as one will find in his extravagant divagations and crepuscular nocturnes. It’s as if the liberal press in some great consort of suspicion has gone to great lengths to filter and silence such works as Shipley and other pessimistically inclined purveyors of our dark estate, who generate with such equanimity and calculated risk the artifacts of disillusionment and the grotesquerie of twisted enlightenment, publish for the select few. And, yet, it is in such texts as these that those who seek a worthy guide into the intricacies of the unbinding from illusions, those very wary readers who slip nightly into the interminable zones of abject horror: – abstract layers where the analytical and continental mind thrive in the interstices of a forlorn universe of multiplicity, would find in the thermospasms of conjectured confabulation the unbinding circuits of madness and death that generates the energetic creativity that is our catastrophic universe and the glory of our literature of terrors and awakenings to the insane truth.

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Gary J. Shipley: Quote of the Day!

 ©Chris Mars: Paintings

I come to Proust on bended knee: “It seems that the taste for books grows with intelligence […] So, the great writers, during those hours when they are not in direct communication with their thought, delight in the society of books.” And as, with a shaky bowel, I anticipate looking out from this scoffing nowhere of broken spines and laden shelves, feel free to browse the clutter of words I have collected, words from which I formed the tools of death.

The Tick-Tock Man: A Weird Tale

“Only a cynic can create horror — for behind every masterpiece of the sort must reside a driving demonic force that despises the human race and its illusions, and longs to pull them to pieces and mock them.”

-Letter from H.P. Lovecraft to Edwin Baird

Maybe I should’ve realized then that my life was going nowhere fast, but as in everything I did I tried to hide that fact from myself. I’d get up, shower, shave, put on a decent gray suit and black tie – the usual invisibility shell I’d been using for years. I’d enter work and smile my masked smile, joke with the guy in the cubicle next to me – Frank was him name, I believe? – for a few minutes; and, then I’d go into my own cube as if it were a monastic cell and shut the rest of the world out of my mind for the rest of the day.

I’m not sure when I noticed things were beginning to change. It wasn’t like I could see a physical difference in the objects around me. I didn’t. It was more a feeling – a vague one, at that. It’s like those strange moments when you catch a glimmer of something out of the corner of your eye, but it is moving so fast that by the time you turn to see what it is – it’s gone, poof. Then you have to ask whether it was just your overactive imagination; believe me, you don’t want to go there, but we’ve all been there – haven’t we?

Then there was the clock on my desk. After all these years – I noticed it. Not that I hadn’t noticed it before. No. I looked at it all time, looked at the one on my computer, looked at the one up on the office wall above Judy’s cube. Time was a preoccupation with me. No. This was different – it wasn’t so much about looking as hearing. Suddenly I kept hearing the tick-tock of the clock over and over and over again to the point I had to stop it or else. I picked it up and slammed it down as hard as I could on the desk. It seemed to stop, or at least it wasn’t as noisy. Then I thought to myself: “What am I doing, this is sheer lunacy?” So I picked the clock up examined it carefully to see if the crystal was cracked or the facing scratched, wound it back up and locked it away in my drawer and left it there.

I remember going to the lavatory for a few minutes. I wasn’t gone that long at all. When I returned there it was – the clock. Sitting there on the desk as if I’d never put it away. A friend had given it to me years ago as a gift. She said it was a rare item. A one of a kind. She’d found it in one of her travels to some country of the Far East. She didn’t remember where. Said it came with a curse; or, at least that is what the shop owner had told her. They’d both laughed at such antics. He told her the clock once belonged to a Princess of ancient China. That a famous toy and clock maker had made it especially for her, and that it was built to keep her alive as long as she took care of it – and, didn’t anger it. It was said that the Princess kept the clock safe for years and years, that she’d put it in an alcove just above her bed where it kept time to the Dragon never yielding to its flames. That is until she fell in love with a young Prince.

The Prince had moved her to his palace and she’d brought her dowry and her clock with her. Everything had gone on fine for many cycles of the turning wheel of time, but then a day came when the Princess had accidentally discovered her lover, the Prince, in the arms of another woman. She’d been so enraged she’d come back to her quarters and begun shredding everything, her clothing, her art, her furniture, her bed, until she came to the object she valued most in her life: the clock. She knew of the curse, and she knew she wanted to get back at the Prince. She picked up the device and without thinking she threw it from the balcony of her room onto the rocks and sea far below.

From that day forward the Princess became ill and a few days and weeks later, even after the Prince had called in the best and brightest doctors, sorcerers, witches, and ancient necromantic seers: she died of unknown causes in an excruciating form – she turned to jade, to stone. The Prince so distraught over the death of his beautiful lover felt there was some ancient curse upon his House. He summoned all his soothsayers and wise men to discover the problem; and they told him of the old toymaker’s clock, and of this man who had loved the young Princess from afar, but due to his age and station in life could only offer the one thing he had to give – the promise of immortality. The clock held the ancient powers of chaos and creation within its mechanical works, a magickal device of cunning and sorcery that bestowed the semblance of life for a price; that price being the dark and terrible secret of death itself which would extol a malignancy upon those who betrayed its confidence. For those who betrayed the device it meant becoming a living death in stone; an immortal statue of jade within which one would be aware for all eternity.

The Prince had the old toymaker and all of his clocks summoned before him. The old man was forced to share the story of his corruption and of the device. The Prince entreated him to break the spell upon the Princess, to release her from her living abomination. But, sadly, the toymaker said this was beyond his power; that the daemon of the clock held the power, and that only it could release her. The Prince angered beyond his young years had without warning slid his katana out and swiftly sliced the head off of the toymaker. He’d wrapped the clock up – which had reappeared after his lover’s mutation in her jade hands – and wrapped it in the old man’s shawl and floated both down the Yellow Yangtze River. That was the last anyone had heard of the clock and its tale till the shop keeper’s great uncle who’d been a traveling merchant had found it and the slain toymaker in the river. The clock seemed such a wonderful object that the old merchant had scooped it from the dead man and hidden it among his things. The merchant had a dream that night and the old toymaker had come to him and told him the tale of the clock and of its curse, that anyone who angered it would surely die as it would die at the appointed hour of the tiger: absolute zero. There and only there did time stop, and freeze into nothing; to remain there throughout all eternity along with its victim alone with the daemon of the clock.

The shop owner Pooh-poohed such old wives tales, said it was just one of those tales to tell your children on a late night when the moon was dark, and the owls and mice in the rafters were hooting and pattering. And, yet, she’d felt a little uneasy about it later, even made sure she wrapped the clock up safely and stowed it away in her traveling chest nice and tight. By the time she’d arrived back home after her journey she’d forgotten all about it. Until she’d given it to me, along with the unnerving tale of Princesses and demons and owls and mice and dark moons and curses.

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The Suicide Machine

The Universe is nothing else than a suicide machine created by a blind and fugitive monstrosity, whose veritable death throes generated the body of this universal catastrophe we now live in as fragments or shards of its dying embers, ash of its black light.

-©2016 S.C. Hickman, The Infernal Journals of Thaddeus Long

Thomas Ligotti will offer a surmise onto the strange necrotheology of the German philosopher Philipp Mainländer (born Phillip Batz), echoing a strain of Gnostic or Buddhist thought underpinning much of 19th Century Philosophy, saying: “Perhaps the Blind God was an unreliable narrator of weird tales. He did not want to leave a bad impression by telling us He had absented Himself from the ceremonies of death before they had begun. Alone and immortal, nothing needed Him. Yet, He needed to bust out into a universe to complete His project of self-extinction, passing on His horror piecemeal, so to say, to His creation.”1 He’ll comment on this amalgam of Catholic, Gnostic, and Pessimist speculation of Mainländer’s – remarking,

No one has yet conceived an authoritative reason for why the human race should continue or discontinue its being, although some believe they have. Mainländer was sure he had an answer to what he judged to be the worthlessness and pain of existence, and none may peremptorily belie it. (CHR,

The inability to posit an optimistic or a pessimistic reason for the continuation of the human species has left humanity in a quandary, oscillating between two poles like dark divers from some infernal picture show; members of a cult of death that keep on keeping on, only because of the ennui and the lack of vital thought or action necessary to decide one way or the other. So instead we have ritualized our world around certain age-old fetishes that our desires can grasp onto to maintain the status quo – if nothing else. As Ligotti delightfully relates: “Ontologically, Mainländer’s thought is delirious; metaphorically, it explains a good deal about human experience; practically, it may in time prove to be consistent with the idea of creation as a structure of creaking bones being eaten from within by a pestilent marrow.” (CHR, 38)


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

 

The Labyrinth of Night

I imagined a labyrinth of labyrinths, a maze of mazes, a twisting, turning, ever-widening labyrinth that contained both past and future and somehow implied the stars.

-Jorge Luis Borges

No one knows when they built the Labyrinth of Night. Some say it has always been here, but that no one knew of its existence because the time was not right; people were not ready to receive its mysteries, its secrets. Others say that the labyrinth is always and everywhere and only for the few – a small elite, those tormented souls who seek eternal solace in the dark and lonely nights of oblivion; that seek the secretive ways of the abyss that are neither a part of time nor a part of space, but rather of that unique and specific territory of powers of an integral obscurity and rotten sentience. These wanderers of a forlorn thought, miscreants of perversity, would rather follow the patterns of this dark desire than meet the physical needs of its tenants; knowers of the labyrinth, caterers of those delicate strains of the hidden art of pain: tempters,  alluring a design, a mystery out of the insane mysteries: a lost art of despair, debauches of cruelty and insanity; transgressors, excessive militants and renegades of the abyss: all, each and every one, – locked away, solitary, in some far creation bounded only by an infinite void, the void; a last and merciless confrontation, an agon with the blacknesses, willing accomplices to the unraveling of all things: the unweaving of  stars and worlds and darkness itself; creatures of absolute nihil unbound. I do not know the truth of it, all I know is that I’ve been here for a very long time.

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Thomas Ligotti: Dark Phenomenology and Abstract Horror

Of course, mystery actually requires a measure of the concrete if it is to be perceived at all; otherwise it is only a void, the void. The thinnest mixture of this mortar, I suppose, is contained in that most basic source of mystery—darkness.

-Thomas Ligotti

Dark Phenonmenology and the Daemonic

Thomas Ligotti in his essay The Dark Beauty Of Unheard-of Horrors (DB) will tell us that “beneath the surface utterances of setting, incident, and character, there is another voice that may speak of something more than the bare elements of narrative”.1  He’ll emphasize as well the notion that “emotion, not mind, is the faculty for hearing the secret voice of the story and apprehending its meaning. Without emotion, neither story nor anything else can convey meaning as such, only data”.  Stephen Zweig in his study of daemonism in the arts once told us that great art cannot exist without inspiration, and inspiration derives from an unknown, from a region outside the domain of the waking consciousness. For me, the true counterpart of the spasmodically exalted writer, divinely presumptuous, carried out of himself by the exuberance of uncontrolled forces, is the writer who can master these forces, the writer whose mundane will is powerful enough to tame and to guide the daemonic element that has been instilled into his being. To guide as well as to tame, for daemonic power, magnificent though it be and the source of creative artistry, is fundamentally aimless, striving only to re-enter the chaos out of which it sprang.2

Isolation, anchoring, distraction, and sublimation are among the wiles we use to keep ourselves from dispelling every illusion that keeps us up and running. Without this cognitive double-dealing, we would be exposed for what we are. It would be like looking into a mirror and for a moment seeing the skull inside our skin looking back at us with its sardonic smile. And beneath the skull— only blackness, nothing.

-Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror

Ligotti makes a point that horror must stay ill-defined, that the monstrous must menace us from a distance, from the unknown; a non-knowledge, rather than a knowledge of the natural; it is the unnatural and invisible that affects us not something we can reduce to some sociological, psychological, or political formation or representation, which only kills the mystery – taming it and pigeonholing it into some cultural gatekeeper’s caged obituary. As Ligotti says “This is how it is when a mysterious force is embodied in a human body, or in any form that is too well fixed. And a mystery explained is one robbed of its power of emotion, dwindling into a parcel of information, a tissue of rules and statistics without meaning in themselves.” (DB) The domesticated beast is no horror at all.

In the attic of the mind a lunatic family resides, a carnival world of aberrant thoughts and feelings – that, if we did not lock away in a conspiracy of silence would freeze us in such terror and fright that we would become immobilized unable to think, feel, or live accept as zombies, mindlessly. So we isolate these demented creatures, keep them at bay. Then we anchor ourselves in artifice, accept substitutes, religious mythologies, secular philosophies, and anything else that will help us keep the monsters at bay. As Ligotti will say, we need our illusions – our metaphysical anchors and dreamscapes “that inebriate us with a sense of being official, authentic, and safe in our beds” (CHR, 31). Yet, when even these metaphysical ploys want stem the tide of those heinous monsters from within we seek out distraction, entertainment: TV, sports, bars, dancing, friends, fishing, scuba diving, boating, car racing, horse riding… almost anything that will keep our mind empty of its dark secret, that will allow it to escape the burden of emotion – of fear, if even for a night or an afternoon of sheer mindless bliss. And, last, but not least, we seek out culture, sublimation – art, theatre, festivals, carnivals, painting, writing, books… we seek to let it all out, let it enter into that sphere of the tragic or comic, that realm where we can exorcize it, display it, pin it to the wall for all to see our fears and terrors on display not as they are but as we lift them up into art, shape them to our nightmare visions or dreamscapes of desire. As Ligotti tells it, we read literature or watch a painting, go to a theatre, etc.:

In so many words, these thinkers and artistic types confect products that provide an escape from our suffering by a bogus simulation of it— a tragic drama or philosophical woolgathering… to showcase how a literary or philosophical composition cannot perturb its creator or anyone else with the severity of true-to-life horrors but only provide a pale representation of these horrors, just as a King Lear’s weeping for his dead daughter Cordelia cannot rend its audience with the throes of the real thing. (CHR, 32)

So we seek to cover it over, isolate it, anchor ourselves in some fantastic illusion of belief, and distract ourselves with Big Brother episodes or Kardashian hijinks, else read or watch tragic portrayals of the horror as a way to purge the effects of these dark emotions that we just cannot cope with. All to no avail. For in the end they will not stay locked up in the attic, but begin to haunt us, begin to find ways to make their presence known, to escape their dark dungeons and enter our lives in surprising and unexpected ways till in the end we discover we are overwhelmed by their dark necessity. Even Ligotti admits that after all his own short narratives, his art, his horrors are little more than escapes from the ennui – merely providing an “escape from our suffering by a bogus simulation of it”. (CHR, 32)

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Cosmic Horror: Spinoza, Poe, and Lovecraft

Nothing exists of which it cannot be asked, what is the cause (or reason), why it exists.

-Baruch Spinoza

Spinoza: Sufficient Reason

The Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) stipulates that everything must have a reason, cause, or ground. Spinoza would add to the epigraph above that since “existing is something positive, we cannot say that it has nothing as its cause. Therefore, we must assign some positive cause, or reason, why [a thing] exists—either an external one, i.e., one outside the thing itself, or an internal one, one comprehended in the nature and definition of the existing thing itself.”1

Spinoza in Axiom 7 appeals in his  explanation – previously stated, that it is a variant of the “ex nihilo, nihil fit” (“from nothing, nothing comes”) principle, and stipulates that an existing thing and its perfections (or qualities) cannot have nothing or a non-existing thing as their cause. So would this for Spinoza preclude any form of relation with an inexistent? We know that in the Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect, Spinoza allows for one unique item to be without a cause. In §70 of this treatise, Spinoza argues:

[T]hat Thought is also called true which involves objectively the essence of some principle that does not have a cause, and is known through itself and in itself. (II/26/33–4.)

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Rethinking Conceptual Universes

Rethinking Culture and Metaphysical Schemes, etc.

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro in his Cannibal Metaphysics argues the case that Amazonian and other Amerindian groups inhabit a radically different conceptual universe than ours—in which nature and culture, human and nonhuman, subject and object are conceived in terms that reverse our own—he presents the case for anthropology as the study of such “other” metaphysical schemes, and as the corresponding critique of the concepts imposed on them by the human sciences.

For me the writing of dark fantastic fiction is just such an exploration. It allows one to investigate the delusions within one’s own culture, to trace down the deliriums and phobias, the nightmares and aberrations that have guided our collective madness for centuries. The notion of insects seems to be a prime example of a nightmare scenario that one finds hidden in the lair of the monstrous within Western Civilization and Culture. One can harken back to ancient myths, dreams, fears, terrors of rats, insects, serpents, etc.; deep seated worlds of disgust that have shaped our religious and secular views of life, medicine, politics, and moral views.

As Peter Skafish asks: “Can anthropology be philosophy, and if so, how?” For philosophers, the matter has been and often remains quite simple: anthropology’s concern with socio-cultural and historical differences might yield analyses that philosophy can put to use (provided that it condescends to examine them), but only rarely does anthropology conceive its material at a level of generality or in relation to metaphysical issues in their positivity that would allow it to really do philosophy, especially of an ontological kind. Anthropologists, on the other hand, tend not to disagree, whether out of a preference for local problems or from the more canny recognition that even the best philosophers prove quite adept at mistaking modern ideological values for transcendental concepts. Such perspectives, however, are proving outmoded in the face of a now sizable group of thinkers, ranging from Bruno Latour and Isabelle Stengers to Marilyn Strathern to François Jullien, whose questions, concepts, objects and methods belong in different ways to both anthropology and philosophy, and who moreover propose that certain aspects of anthropology – analyses of scientific practices, knowledge of cultural variation, and an old thing called structuralism – are key to a new metaphysics as empirical, pluralistic and comparative as transcendental, unifying and general.

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Julia Kristeva and the Abject Grotesque

Julia Kristeva and the Abject Grotesque

Far in the distance the tugboat whistled; its call passed the bridge, one more arch, then another, the lock, another bridge, farther and farther … It was summoning all the barges on the river, every last one, and the whole city and the sky and the countryside, and ourselves, to carry us all away, the Seine too —and that would be the end of us.

-Celine, Journey to the End of Night

In Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (1982), Julia Kristeva describes the process of abjection as a form of expulsion and rejection of the Other, which she ties to the historical exclusion of women. Neither subject nor object, the abject, or the state of abjection, is articulated in, and through, grotesque language and imagery. The process of abjection is, then, associated with deformed bodies and oozing bodily fluids: blood, pus, bile, faeces, sweat and vomit break down the borders separating the inside from outside, the contained from the released. Abjection is a state of flux, where ‘meaning collapses’, and the body is open and irregular, sprouting or protruding internal and external forms to link abjection to grotesquerie.

“On close inspection, all literature is probably a version of the apocalypse that seems to me rooted, no matter what its sociohistorical conditions might be, on the fragile border (borderline cases) where identities (subject/object, etc.) do not exist or only barely so—double, fuzzy, heterogeneous, animal, metamorphosed, altered, abject” (Powers 207 ). “Not a language of the desiring exchange of messages or objects that are transmitted in a social contract of communication and desire beyond want, but a language of want, of the fear that edges up to it and runs along its edges” (Powers 38 ).

How do we align such a vision of exclusion, abjectness, borderline breakdowns, fear and terror of the Other to the current world of refugees and the wars of nations: economic slavery, austerity, and the darkening hatred and recurrence of fascist tendencies in our time? How speak to that hunger at the center of the void, the lack, the want of which Kristeva’s notions of the comedy of the Abject speak? Have the refugees, as well as women, the LGBTQ community, and many other aspects of our planetary society and civilization become the excluded Other of which we are now faced with the impossible dilemma of either inclusions or expulsion? Maybe these excluded others view us morbid parasites feeding off the global excess, as creatures of grotesque proportion whose shadow worlds of thought and culture are but the fetid apertures of a dying body, a civilization on the edge of destruction, chaos, and apocalypse? It’s as if the open wounds of the world body we are seeing is connected to an ancient curse of civilization, one that stretches back into the hinterlands ten thousand years ago when the first cities began accumulating, hoarding, and guarding their agricultural harvests against the nomadic wanderers and raiders of the outer reaches. This notion still seems still to pervade the modern psyche, as if civilization from the beginning was shaped by a dark and terrible deed, a grotesque system of dominion, slavery, and exclusion that has ever since haunted the mindscapes of every nation on earth.

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Medusamorphosis: The Seduction of Love and Death

medusa-1597-1

Such is the seducer’s strategy : he gives himself the humility of the mirror, but a skillful mirror, like Perseus’ shield, in which Medusa found herself petrified. The girl too is going to fall captive to the mirror that reflects and analyzes her’, without her knowledge.

-Jean Baudrillard, Seduction

Medusamorphosis relates to the mythical figure of the Gorgon Medusa, a key figure of fascination, whose looks were thought to turn living beings into stone. The Medusa incorporates the ambivalent forces of attraction and repulsion that are at the heart of the dangerously seductive and petrifying lure referred to as ‘fascination’. Furthermore, the threat and thrill evoked by this figure support the conceptualisation of fascination and its development insofar as different representations of the Gorgon across historical eras, cultural contexts and across different media point to dominating trends underlying the dread of, or desire for ‘fascination’.1

Fascination is the “act of bewitching,” from Latin fascinationem (nominative fascinatio), noun of action from past participle stem of fascinare “bewitch, enchant”: the “state of being fascinated” is from 1650s; that of “fascinating quality, attractive influence upon the attention” is from 1690s. We know it is associated with “a charm, enchantment, spell, witchcraft,” which is of from European lore and folktales. Earliest used to describe witches and of serpents, who were said to be able to cast a spell by a look that rendered one unable to move or resist. Our legends of the Medusa with a head of serpents typifies this ancient motif, and became an apotropaic charm against the unknown and monstrous in ancient Greece. The Evil eye that binds, that wards off the dark and broken, the lonely and hungry ghosts; the dead among the darkening alleys, the mazes in the stone, circling, wandering, mazing among the endless gaps and cracks in-between times, in-between life and death; wandering across the hidden barriers, the hedgerows between the living and the dead, shifting, not knowing whether they are alive or dead. T.S. Eliot: “I had not thought death had undone so many.”

300px-MedusaIn the Medusa there is an association of beauty and terror, and even Leonardo da Vinci in the Renaissance would show this quality of absolute horror and beauty enfolded in the decay of stone ensorcelled by serpentine hair and frogs her lips and eyes open to the fateful stars above. The cool beauty of the femme fatale is another transformation of chthonian ugliness. Female animals are usually less beautiful than males. The mother bird’s dull feathers are camouflage, protecting the nest from predators. Male birds are creatures of spectacular display, of both plumage and parade, partly to impress females and conquer rivals and partly to divert enemies from the nest. Among humans, male ritual display is just as extreme, but for the first time the female becomes a lavishly beautiful object. Why? The female is adorned not simply to increase her property value, as Marxism would demystifyingly have it, but to assure her desirability. Consciousness has made cowards of us all. Animals do not feel sexual fear, because they are not rational beings. They operate under a pure biologic imperative. Mind, which has enabled humanity to adapt and flourish as a species, has also infinitely complicated our functioning as physical beings. We see too much, and so have to stringently limit our seeing. Desire is besieged on all sides by anxiety and doubt. Beauty, an ecstasy of the eye, drugs us and allows us to act. Beauty is our Apollonian revision of the chthonian.2

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The Daemonic Imaginal: Ecstasy and Horror of the Noumenon

Historically speaking, demons are far from being horned and goateed Mephistos tempting us to do bad things. The demon is as much a philosophical concept as it is a religious and political one. In fact, the “demon” is often a placeholder for some sort of non-human, malefic agency that acts against the human (that is, against the world-for-us).

-Eugene Thacker,  In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy vol. 1

There are three gates through which the hunter of souls ventures to bind: vision, hearing, and mind or imagination. If it happens that someone passes through all three of these gates, he binds most powerfully and ties down most tightly.

-Giordano Bruno: Cause, Principle and Unity: And Essays on Magic

Vauung seems to think there are lessons to be learnt from this despicable mess. It describes a labyrinth which is nothing but an intricate hall of mirrors, losing you in an ‘unconscious’ which is magnificent beyond comprehension yet indistinguishable from an elaborate trap.

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

Stuart Clark in Thinking with Demons: The Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe offers us an opening onto an abstruse subject: Demonology. “Demonology was a composite subject consisting of discussions about the workings of nature, the processes of history, the maintenance of religious purity, and the nature of political authority and order.” (6) One could say that contrariety is the key to demonology, a thinking against the impurity and counter-sublime that would destroy both the cultural aristocracy and its elitism, as well as its political, religious, and legal order-nomos. In Empedocles the notion of contrarieties would find its harbinger in promoting discord (Strife) and concord (Love) as the primary contraries in a dualistic system of warring elements that produced the cosmos between Heimarmene (Fate, Discord) and Harmonia (Concord, Order).

Heimarmene or the Moirai (Moirae) were the three goddesses of fate who personified the inescapable destiny of man. They assigned to every person his or her fate or share in the scheme of things. Their name means “Parts.” “Shares” or “Alottted Portions.” The individuals were Klotho (Clotho), the “the Spinner,” who spun the thread of life, Lakhesis (Lachesis), “the Apportioner of Lots”, who measured it, and Atropos (or Aisa), “She who cannot be turned,” who cut it short. Zeus Moiragetes, the god of fate, was their leader.

At the birth of a man, the Moirai spinned out the thread of his future life, followed his steps, and directed the consequences of his actions according to the counsel of the gods. It was not an inflexible fate; Zeus, if he chose, had the power of saving even those who were already on the point of being seized by their fate. The Fates did not abruptly interfere in human affairs but availed themselves of intermediate causes, and determined the lot of mortals not absolutely, but only conditionally, even man himself, in his freedom was allowed to exercise a certain influence upon them. As man’s fate terminated at his death, the goddesses of fate become the goddesses of death, Moirai Thanatoio.

HARMONIA was the goddess of harmony and concord. She was a daughter of Ares and Aphrodite and as such presided over both marital harmony, soothing strife and discord, and harmonious action of soldiers in war. Late Greek and Roman writers sometimes portrayed her as harmony in a more abstract sense–a deity who presided over cosmic balance. In Plato’s Timaeus harmonization by proportion (of contrary elements, seasons, physical motions, and components of the soul) became the principle by which the Divinity created from chaos.

One can discover the use of contrariety as a guiding concept throughout both religious and philosophical speculation from Plato and Aristotle, his pupil on down to Immanuel Kant whose philosophical system both concluded one tradition and began what we’ve come to term Modernity (even though this term had been contested throughout the 16th to 18th centuries). The Aristotelian maxim contrariorum eadem est doctrina expresses this, as does Kant’s dictum that ‘all a priori division of concepts must be by dichotomy’.

The dichotomy that will concern us in this tentative assaying of the territory of demonology or thinking with demons is that of the contrariety of the phenomenal/noumenal divide. So I begin with Immanuel Kant. One could almost say that the demon in his philosophy is the concept of the noumenon. In our own time many philosophers, anti-philosophers, non-philosophers have converged upon the noumenon. Kant  was the philosopher who sundered the known from the unknown, appearance from reality, sensible from intelligible. One could traces aspects of this battle back through the Idealists / Rationalists and on down into the Scholastics nominalist/realist divides in one form or another. Yet, it was Kant that introduced the categories and introduced the specific terms argument of the terms in his division of the concepts of “phenomena” and “noumena” that have haunted both Continental and Analytical philosophy in the Secular Age.  Kant first used these terms in his 1770 Inaugural Dissertation, On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World.

Sensibility is the receptivity of a subject in virtue of which it is possible for the subject’s own representative state to be affected in a definite way by the presence of some object. Intelligence (rationality) is the faculty of a subject in virtue of which it has the power to represent things which cannot by their own quality come before the senses of that subject. The object of sensibility is the sensible; that which contains nothing but what is to be cognized through the intelligence is intelligible. In the schools of the ancients, the former was called a phenomenon and the latter a noumenon. Cognition, in so far as it is subject to the laws of sensibility is sensitive, and, in so far as it is subject to the laws of intelligence, it is intellectual or rational. (§3, Ak 2:392).

Kant goes on to claim that there is a form of the intelligible world, an objective principle, which is “some cause in virtue of which there is a combining together of the things which exist in themselves” (§13, Ak 2:398). This cause is a unitary being on which all substances depend, a creator and architect of the world. Thus, Kant makes what he would later call a “transcendental” use of the pure concept of cause (or that from which something is derived) in principles like the following: “The substances which constitute the world are beings which derive from another being, though not from a number of different beings; they all derive from the same being” (§20, Ak 2:408).

Kant introduced the concept of the noumenon in the oppositional or negative sense, as the concept of an object that is not the object of a sensible intuition or the intellect; a placeholder for the limits of thought rather than thought itself. The function of this concept is to “limit the pretension of sensibility” (KrV A255/B311); and since this “pretension” is that sensible, i.e., spatiotemporal, predicates apply to things in general, this limitation is central to Kant’s “critical” project. Moreover, it brings with it the replacement of a transcendental by an empirical realism and therewith a commitment to transcendental idealism.1

One last item is the battle between those in favor of a “two-world” theory, and those in favor of a “two-aspect” theory of the phenomenon/noumenon divide. Allison will condense his argument from the anti-idealist camp using the work of P.F. Strawson and H.A. Pritchard. Strawson would reduce Kant’s Transcendental Idealism to incoherence, suggesting that Kant perverts the scientific empirical model of the mind’s being affected by physical objects by a mental trick. For Strawson Kant division into sensible/intelligible, appearance/reality distinctions creates the very problem it pretends to overcome: the reduction of the spatiotemporal relation to the subjective constitution of the mind (i.e., that the external is constructed by the mind, not affected by the sensible objects themselves). Secondly, is Pritchard’s argument that Kant confuses the issue claiming that we can know appearances but not things-in-themselves, and proceeds to affirm that we can really know appearances and they really are spatial. This leads Pritchard says to the assumption by Kant that we can only know things as they seem to us through appearances (representations), not how they really are in-themselves external to this system of representational mythology. 2

It would lead to too far afield to dig deeper into the tangled skein of analytical vs. transcendental idealist divide in Strawson, Pritchard, Paul Guyer, and Rae Langton. Each in their own way tried to separate out the transcendental idealism from the analytical aspects of Kant’s philosophy. I’ll leave that to the interested reader.

To simplify: the point is that for Kant there is no argument that things-in-themselves exist independent of us (realism), the point is rather that until these things are conceptualized for us and by us in the mind. But this does not mean that they exist as in Bishop Berkeley as Ideas or sense data in the mind independent of those external objects, rather these external objects to become objects for us must conform to the conditions of their representation in our mind. Whatever these objects, things, entities are independent of us is meaningless until they are made intelligible in the mind and conditioned as representations.

Most of modern philosophy and art has been a civil-war over this representational model of the mind that Kant distilled out of ancient to rationalist philosophy.  Kant himself would try to blend the two without fusing them saying: “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.” (A51/B76) For Allison Kant’s Transcendental Idealism was founded on a “two aspect” theory of epistemic conditioning, one that would require the transcendental distinction between appearances and things in themselves as based on two ways of considering things be maintained (as they appear and as they are in themselves) rather than as, on a more traditional reading, between two ontologically distinct sets of entities (appearances and things in themselves). (TI, p. 16)

This battle between epistemic conditioning of reality for us or for itself on the one hand, and those who would ontologize this gap between things for us and in themselves plays into many current notions surrounding knowledge. If reality must conform to the representations we have of it then we are bound in a circle of predetermined forms that guide our thoughts, while if reality can be divided in itself between objects as appearance (phenomenon) and objects as noumenal unknowns to which we have no direct access then we are bound to diametric and confrontational views of life and meaning.

Some like Quentin Meillassoux in his recent After Finitude would argue against what he termed correlationism, which is seen to be the thesis that it is impossible to think being independent of the relation between thought and being.  Meillassoux’s aim is to think the absolute or reality as it exists independent of human beings. The correlationist on the other hand thinks that there is no human without world, nor world without human, but only a primal correlation or rapport between the two. Hence, the object has no autonomy for the correlationist. In franker terms, the object does not exist. Kant’s ultimate judgment and the central teaching of his so called Copernican Revolution was to turn philosophy into a meditation on human finitude and forbid it from discussing reality-in-itself. So that after him all we could affirm positively was the phenomenal region of our spatio-temporal cosmos as conditioned by our representational mind.

Meillassoux and others since Kant have tried without success to counter this explicit closure of the noumenon, seeking to discover another path, one that seeks outside direct access to this noumenal sphere a more indirect access to its unknowability. It’s in this liminal sphere between the possible and impossible, phenomenal and noumenal that the wars of philosophy between epistemic and ontological access have for two centuries striven sometimes winning small battles here and there but none winning the war. The noumenon will not let itself be reduced to either epistemic conditioning nor ontological excess, it acts like a daemonic continuum that is full of discord, strife, and contradiction that allows only the vagrant mediator, the vanishing mediator to convey, though indirectly some semblance of the darkness made visible.

The Daemonic Realms: The “Subject” of Posthumanism

“…all demons are malevolent, deceiving, posturing enemies of humanity…”

-Jean Bodin, Démonomanie

Thinking about the daemonic or thinking the daemon brings us to edge of both thought and speech, of what can be thought and what spoken. Kepler in his, “The Speech of Daemons,” which formed a part of his allegory of the Cosmos that sought to explain his scientific and natural views constitutes the central core of the elaborately framed narrative. The Daemon became in his Somnium: The Dream, or Posthumous Work on Lunar Astronomy a polysemic allegorical assemblage of the Christian and scientific imagination, represents Kepler’s attempt to resolve competing discourses available for theorizing nature. Kepler struggled to break through the limits of thought in his time, a thought that restricted the minds of those he sought to convey his natural and cosmological information to. To do that he pushed the limits of a form of dream discourse that could reach into that abyss of the daemonic imaginal where meaning could be brought back in a form of daemonic speech that spoke the alterity beyond the limit’s of his time’s cultural register. Eugene Thacker in his three-volume work In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy on the horror of philosophy would offer a view onto this limiting factor of our knowledge of the world and ourselves:

[T]he horror of philosophy: the isolation of those moments in which philosophy reveals its own limitations and constraints, moments in which thinking enigmatically confronts the horizon of its own possibility – the thought of the unthinkable that philosophy cannot pronounce but via a non-philosophical language.(2)

The Daemonic Imaginal is that alterity beyond the limit of our symbolic and cultural horizon that allows the abyss to open its darkness to us and reveal what is both most natural and most daemonic to us in forms that take on powers of speech and thought irreducible to the logic and instrumental reasoning of our everyday utilitarian language and mental make-up. Yet, this is not some transcendent realm of spirits from some external world beyond our world, but rather the powers at the heart of our elemental desires and fears, our deepest noumenal affective registry that cannot be any part of intuition (Intellect) or sense-data (Sensibility) but is rather part of that contrariety and agonistic world of strife that is neither logical or reasonable.

The Daemon arises from that dark sphere of thought by way of indirect appropriation, through lures and traps, alluring its subtle world not by way of representations and the light of Reason, but rather by way of diagrams, sigils, forces and powers of imaginal entreaty, drawing this non-knowledge into that intermediated realm between the sublime and ridiculous without reducing it to our daylight utilitarian symbols thereby degrading it and losing the very force of its message. As Thacker surmises

I would propose that horror be understood not as dealing with human fear in a human world (the world-for-us), but that horror be understood as being about the limits of the human as it confronts a world that is not just a World, and not just the Earth, but also a Planet (the world-without-us). (8)

Opening any number of current philosophical or scientific works in the past few years one gets a feeling that an advanced cadre of alien invaders were slowly erasing the memory of the human from our cultural complex, as if an invasion of alien thinkers had replaced our age old vision of human exceptionalism. This novel undermining of two thousand years of Christian humanist civilization some say has been going on since the Enlightenment age of Kant. That what is occurring in our midst, to the detrimental to the both the older humanistic and humancentric view of life, self, and the universe is nothing less than the destruction of the human species in advance of some transvaluation of both our values and our genetic inheritance in an ongoing transformation into a posthuman civilization.

If as some have surmised that one can only radicalize or reverse a philosophical system then what has happened recently in terms of philosophy is the extreme end of Kantianism: it has been both radicalized and reversed to the extreme nth degree and found wanting. Over the past two centuries Kant’s system would divide the House of Philosophy into both Analytical and Continental forms in its quest to overcome the dilemma he’d set for his philosophy of finitude and the phenomenal. Unable to break out of the correlational circle of thought and affirm objects independent of the mind’s representations, philosophers have sought either to extend into analytical and mathematical theoretic or the discursive and phenomenological theoretic left open to it. Both paths ended in failure. But even this failure to break out of the correlational circle has spawned other possibilities.

Slavoj Zizek realizing the quandary of this circular reasoning will remind us of Niels Bohr who liked to repeat, at the level of the physics of micro-particles, there is no “objective” measurement, no access to “objective” reality— not because we (our mind) constitutes reality, but because we are part of the reality which we measure, and thus lack an “objective distance” towards it.3 Zizek himself will join all those dualists that have seen a gap between thought and reality, yet he stays with the notion of the Subject or a humancentric view that begs the question. As he’ll say of Meillassoux,

Meillassoux’s claim is to have achieved the breakthrough into independent “objective” reality. But there is a third Hegelian option: the true problem that follows from Meillassoux’s basic speculative gesture (transposing the contingency of our notion of reality into the Thing itself) is not so much what more we can say about reality-in-itself, but how our subjective standpoint and subjectivity itself fit into reality. (LTN, KL 14517)

That seems to be the most degrading and almost reactionary aspect of Zizek’s stance in maintaining the notion of a Subject in a world where neuroscientists and many philosophers have escaped or evaded this notion as retrograde and dubious at best. I don’t have time to go into all the arguments for this here, and will only add Thomas Metzinger’s statement:

Contrary to what most people believe, nobody has ever been or had a self. But it is not just that the modern philosophy of mind and cognitive neuroscience together are about to shatter the myth of the self. It has now become clear that we will never solve the philosophical puzzle of consciousness—that is, how it can arise in the brain, which is a purely physical object—if we don’t come to terms with this simple proposition: that to the best of our current knowledge there is no thing, no indivisible entity, that is us, neither in the brain nor in some metaphysical realm beyond this world. So when we speak of conscious experience as a subjective phenomenon, what is the entity having these experiences?4

Which will force Zizek to then ask if problem is not “Can we penetrate the veil of subjectively constituted phenomena to Things-in-themselves?” but “How do phenomena themselves arise within the flat stupidity of reality which just is; how does reality redouble itself and start to appear to itself?” For this, we need a theory of the subject which involves neither transcendental subjectivity nor a reduction of the subject to a part of objective reality; such a theory also enables us to formulate in a new way what Meillassoux calls the problem of correlationism (ancestrality). Here, both Lacan and Hegel are anti-Leninists, for their problem is not “how to reach objective reality which is independent of (its correlation to) subjectivity,” but how subjectivity is already inscribed into reality— to quote Lacan again, not only is the picture in my eye, but I am also in the picture. (LTN, KL 14520)

Ultimately for Zizek there is an irreducible (constitutive) discord, or non-correlation, between subject and reality: in order for the subject to emerge, the impossible object-that-is-subject must be excluded from reality, since it is this very exclusion which opens up the space for the subject. The problem is not to think the Real outside of transcendental correlation, independently of the subject; the problem is to think the Real inside the subject, the hard core of the Real in the very heart of the subject, its ex-timate center. (LTN, 14533) Thinking through what this exclusion from reality might entail, the negation that opens up this object that is the Subject and forces the extreme solution to think the Real at the core of this Subject as internal to the Subject in itself seems to reverse the Kantian distinction. Now the noumenon is at the core of the Subject rather than in the external world or Thing-in-itself. Rather than a split between appearance / thing-in-itself or phenomenon/noumenon we now have in Zizek’s metaphysical system the introduction of a split also into the subject, between its thinking and its (not actual life-being but its) non-thought thought, its non-non-thought, between discourse and the Real (not reality). So the point is not only to overcome the inaccessible In-itself by claiming that “there is nothing beyond the veil of semblances except what the subject itself put there,” but to relate the In-itself to the split in the subject itself. (LTN, KL 14543)

This displacement of the noumenal from the external to the internal split within the Subject-in-itself seems to open the world of the daemonic that Eugene Thacker in the epigraph to this essay terms  “a placeholder for some sort of non-human, malefic agency that acts against the human”.

…it has been gone for 2,000 years, either because God withdrew the Holy Spirit or because for one reason or another man lost the method and the notion. And then all that came were daemons rather than daimons— evil spirits only…

-Philip K Dick,  The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick

The Split: The Daemonic in the Subject

I am one of those who not only knows that those who sleep in death will awaken, but I know how (and I know it, too, by gnosis, not pistis). Thus I see now that the fact of anamnesis is tied in with the basic, informational quality of the universe. After all, it was information which retrieved me, whereupon I then could distinguish other higher information and learn from it.

– Philip K. Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick

E.R. Dodds in his now classic The Greeks and the Irrational would remind us that the ancient people of Greece, from whom our conceptuality and notions of reason and the irrational first arose, saw the world in daemonic terms as the will of Zeus “working itself out through an inexorable moral law, his characters see only a daemonic world, haunted by malignant forces”.6 Dodds would go on to say,

The daemonic, as distinct from the divine, has at all periods played a large part in Greek popular belief (and still does). People in the Odyssey attribute many events in their lives, both mental and physical, to the agency of anonymous daemons; we get the impression, however, that they do not always mean it very seriously. But in the age that lies between the Odyssey and the Orestia, the daemons seem to draw closer: they grow more persistent, more insidious, more sinister. (GI, KL 794)

The Greeks would in fact begin to see our passional nature, our irrational emotions and intentions as daemons. As Dodds will tell us those irrational impulses which arise in a man against his will to tempt him, such as Theognis calls hope and fear are “dangerous daemons,” or when Sophocles speaks of Eros as a power that “warps to wrong the righteous mind, for its destruction,”  we should not dismiss this as “personification”: behind it lies the old Homeric feeling that these things are not truly part of the self, since they are not within man’s conscious control; they are endowed with a life and energy of their own, and so can force a man, as it were from the outside, into conduct foreign to him. (GI, KL 804) A second type of daemon would be associated with various diseases that would eat away the body such as Cholera, Smallpox, and Plague. Third would be the notion of moira or “portion” of personal luck in which as Theognis laments that more depends on one’s daemon than on one’s character: if your daemon is of poor quality, mere good judgement is of no avail— your enterprises come to nothing. (GI, 907)

Empedocles would teach the Greeks of the occult self which persisted through successive incarnations which he called, not “psyche” but “daemon.” This daemon has, apparently, nothing to do with perception or thought, which Empedocles held to be mechanically determined; the function of the daemon is to be the carrier of man’s potential divinity113 and actual guilt. It is nearer in some ways to the indwelling spirit which the shaman inherits from other shamans than it is to the rational “soul” in which Socrates believed; but it has been moralised as a guilt-carrier, and the world of the senses has become the Hades in which it suffers torment. (GI, KL 3036)

This notion of the split within the Subject as daemon and psyche would have repercussions down through Plato and then into the Neo-Platonists and Christian Gnostics who would inherit these ideas and extend them taking over the notion that we already exist in Hades or Hell and suffer the torments of a Demon King, the Devil or Demiurge. As Dodds would admit the Classical Age inherited a whole series of inconsistent pictures of the “soul” or “self” the living corpse in the grave, the shadowy image in Hades, the perishable breath that is spilt in the air or absorbed in the aether, the daemon that is reborn in other bodies. (GI, KL 3607) Yet, as the Greeks demythologized their society and rationalized it into philosophical concepts and reason the externalization of these daemons would slowly withdraw into the human head as intentions, impulses, and irrational drives pulling and pushing humans into sinister paths.

Plato’s fission of the empirical man into daemon and beast is perhaps not quite so inconsequent as it may appear to the modern reader. It reflects a similar fission in Plato’s view of human nature: the gulf between the immortal and the mortal soul corresponds to the gulf between Plato’s vision of man as he might be and his estimate of man as he is. (GI, KL 4253) Over time the naturalization of these mythical entities into passions, emotions, intentions would resolve them in ways that allowed the political and social control of human behavior. Yet, the rational never quite was able to exclude the older mythical elements from its systems, and even Socrates would do honor to his daemon on his death bed.

In our time Zizek will speak of this daemonic realm of the Real as the pure virtual surface, the “incorporeal” Real, which is to be opposed to the Real in its most terrifying imaginary dimension, the primordial abyss which swallows up everything, dissolving all identities— a figure well known in literature in multiple guises, from Edgar Allan Poe’s maelstrom and Kurtz’s “horror” at the end of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, to Pip from Melville’s Moby Dick who, cast to the bottom of the ocean, experiences the demon God:

Carried down alive to wondrous depths, where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro before his passive eyes … Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. He saw God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke to it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad. (LTN, 1579)

Zizek would return us to Plato, to the Real of the Gap: the assertion of the gap between the spatio-temporal order of reality in its eternal movement of generation and corruption, and the “eternal” order of Ideas— the notion that empirical reality can “participate” in an eternal Idea, that an eternal Idea can shine through it, appear in it. As he’ll suggest:

Where Plato got it wrong is in his ontologization of Ideas (strictly homologous to Descartes’s ontologization of the cogito), as if Ideas form another, even more substantial and stable order of “true” reality. What Plato was not ready (or, rather, able) to accept was the thoroughly virtual, “immaterial” (or, rather, “insubstantial”) status of Ideas: like sense-events in Deleuze’s ontology, Ideas have no causality of their own; they are virtual entities generated by spatio-temporal material processes. Take an attractor in mathematics: all positive lines or points in its sphere of attraction only endlessly approach it, without ever reaching its form— the existence of this form is purely virtual; it is nothing more than the form towards which the lines and points tend. However, precisely as such, the virtual is the Real of this field: the immovable focal point around which all elements circulate— the term “form” here should be given its full Platonic weight, since we are dealing with an “eternal” Idea in which reality imperfectly “participates.” (LTN, KL 935)

For Zizek our realm, this universe of material reality is “all there is,” that there is no Platonic true world beyond the cosmos: and, the ontological status of Ideas is that of pure appearing. The question becomes not “how can we reach the true reality beyond appearances?” but “how can appearance emerge in reality?” The conclusion Plato avoids is implied in his own line of thought: the supersensible Idea does not dwell beyond appearances, in a separate ontological sphere of fully constituted Being; it is appearance as appearance. No wonder that the two great admirers of Plato’s Parmenides, Hegel and Lacan, both provide exactly the same formula of the “truth” of the Platonic supersensible Idea: the supersensible

comes from the world of appearance which has mediated it; in other words, appearance is its essence and, in fact, its filling. The supersensible is the sensuous and the perceived posited as it is in truth; but the truth of the sensuous and the perceived is to be appearance. The supersensible is therefore appearance qua appearance … It is often said that the supersensible world is not appearance; but what is here understood by appearance is not appearance, but rather the sensuous world as itself the really actual. (LTN, 953)

The implicit lesson of Plato is not that everything is appearance, that it is not possible to draw a clear line of separation between appearance and reality (that would have meant the victory of sophism), but that essence is “appearance as appearance,” that essence appears in contrast to appearance within appearance; that the distinction between appearance and essence has to be inscribed into appearance itself.(LTN, 969)

Which brings us to the Void. For Zizek appearance as essence is in itself empty, a nothingness manifest, the “nothingness of a pure gap (antagonism, tension, “contradiction”), the pure form of dislocation ontologically preceding any dislocated content”. (LTN, 983)

This whole digression brings us back to the inhuman split subject within as the place of this warring, antagonistic, contradictory realm of the daemonic Real.

The Rise of the Archons: Gnosticism, Gnosis, and Nonknowledge

Why do these spiritual beings have mercy on us in the first place? And why do they choose to speak to us through sudden and striking images? Why is their presence always marked by an odd, eerie, weird apparition? Why do they have to pervert nature in order to reveal their messages?

-Armando Maggi, In The Company of Demons

Philosophical sophisticates like Marcus Aurelius are no less vulnerable than the local shoemaker, for, as Marcus’s own philosophy might show,  daimones can turn philosophy itself into a means of subjugating people to their tyranny.7 Pagels in her study on the origin of Satan will trace the concept of daimonies through its Greek, Jewish, Christian, and Gnostic variants. The whole of the ancient world was pervaded by the daimonic in both its moral and amoral forms. One finds literature in all pagan or Christian forms pervaded by magic, binding spells, curse tablets, voodoo dolls, and rituals to control and direct daimonies for good or ill.9

In his Against the Heresies Irenaeus relates the origins of the Demiurge:

When she saw that all the rest had a consort, but she herself was without a partner, she sought for one, with whom she might unite; and when she did not  fi nd one she took it sorely, extended herself, and looked down into the lower regions, thinking to  fi nd a consort there. And when she found none she leapt forth, disgusted also because she had made the leap without the goodwill of the Father. Then, moved by simplicity and goodness, she generated a work in which was ignorance and audacity.

This work of hers they call the First Archon, the creator of this world. They relate that he stole from his mother a great power and departed from her into the lower regions, and made the  firmament of heaven in which also they say he dwells.

One hears in this an echo and inversion of the ancient Christian and Greek myths with Sophia, Wisdom, giving birth to the blind demiurge or first Archon who will in turn steal a “great power” from his Mother that will help him reorder and construct the Cosmos: the lower realms of our universe. One thinks of Prometheus stealing fire from Zeus, or Pandora’s box of toxic gifts as well… as if the corruption began with the breaking of a taboo, a sacrifice – a blind and tearful progenitor seeking to mold a universe of pure hate and desolation.

Neoplatonism and Pico’s attempted synthesis of all philosophies on a mystical basis are really, at bottom, an aspiration after a new gnosis rather than a new philosophy. At any rate, it was their immersion in the atmosphere of gnosis through their veneration for Hermes Trismegistus which led Ficino and Pico to their religious approach to magic and to their placing of the Magus on a lofty pinnacle of insight, a position very different from that held by the vulgar necromancers and conjurors in former less enlightened times.

-Frances A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition

Georges Bataille will tell us that in practice, it is possible to see as a leitmotiv of Gnosticism the conception of matter as an active principle having its own eternal autonomous existence as darkness (which would not be simply the absence of light, but the monstrous archontes revealed by this absence), and as evil (which would not be the absence of good, but a creative action).9 Here we see Bataille revealing the power of darkness and matter as energetic power, both active and creative. Bataille attributes to such sovereign moments of energetic, affective expenditure a sacrificial character. “the principle of sacrifice is destruction,” he writes, “but though it sometimes goes so far as to destroy completely . . . the destruction that sacrifice is intended to bring about is not annihilation. The thing—only the thing—is what sacrifice means to destroy in the victim. Sacrifice destroys an object’s . . . ties of subordination; it draws the victim out of the world of utility” and into the sphere of the sacred.10 (NE, 220)

One might say Bataille was seeking an anti-political left-hand path out of our capitalist prison, a way to exit the system of profits without expenditure that was a living hell for those trapped within its vast mechanisms of clockwork utilitarian culture and practice. And, for Bataille, the only path out was down and into the daemonic heart of “inner experience,” a revitalization of those dark powers of the ancient archons who were the energetic force of excess and transgression. Bataille sought to negate the darkest prison of all: Time.

For Bataille the sacred was a realm of splits and gaps as well. He’d seek through “inner experience” (gnosis or non-knowledge) a exit from the mundane and utilitarian profane work-a-day world, and an entry into the realm of the left-hand path of the dangerous, decaying, morbid sacred. Bataille advances this “duality of the sacred,” extending and radicalizing the features of the “two opposing classes” observed by Durkheim: “pure
and impure,” vivifying and decaying. According to Bataille’s account, the right sacred amounts to a transcendent projection of the profane world; it is rational utility elevated to the level of God or some other exalted figure. The left sacred, by contrast, is the Dionysian dimension of the sacred; it is not accessed in transcendence but activated through the transgression of prohibitions that keep the profane world intact. Whereas the elevated, Apollonian consciousness seeks stable and enduring forms, the disciple of the monstrous, left sacred revels in “ruptur[ing] the highest elevation, and . . . has a share in the elaboration or decomposition of forms” attendant upon intoxication, madness, and artistic profusion. (NE, 221)

This lower left-hand sacred path was for Bataille excessive and  transgressive, escaping assimilation or systematization. In this way, like the chthonic god with which it is affiliated in Bataille’s thought, the left sacred is a “low value” that disrupts both the rational order of utility—the “real world,” conditioned by telic thought and dedicated to useful projects—as well as its divinized counterpart, the right sacred. It is at once activated by, and provokes the death of, the closed,  individual self—the death that grants the experience of continuity.(NE, 221)

It’s in this realm of continuity that the daimonic manifests itself. “Nonknowledge communicates ecstasy,” Bataille writes. “Thus ecstasy only remains possible in the anguish of ecstasy, in this sense, that it cannot be satisfaction, grasped knowledge.” It is in the “dazed lucidity” of ecstatic agnosia that one realizes the sacrificial shattering of the self. In a manner that recalls Freud’s characterization of dreams, this oneiric mystical experience is “heedless of contradictions”; indeed, it proceeds in and through affective and intellectual contradictions, with “as much disorder as in dreams.” This ecstasy is the anti-Hegelian, excessively Nietzschean fomentation of inner experience: the point of extreme “contradiction” in which “circular, absolute knowledge is definitive non-knowledge.” Inner experience is the encounter with the dream knot: a “dream of the unknown . . . the refusal to be everything,” a loss of self in the night of nonknowledge, which carries the “meaning of dream.” (NE, 236)

It’s this sense in Bataille’s gnosis of nonknowledge of coming up against the limit of the human, of sacrifice and the loss of self in immersion with the inhuman core of being, its continuity. As Thacker will remind us

Here again we arrive at the concept of the demon as a limit for thought, a limit that is constituted not by being or becoming, but by non-being, or nothingness. And here we should state what we have been hinting at all along, which is that in contrast to the theology of the demon, or the poetics of the demon, there is something more basic still that has to do with the ideas of negation and nothingness – hence we should really think of the demon as an ontological problem (not theology, not poetry, but philosophy). (DTP, 45)

It’s this sense that the daimon is more about thought and the limits of thought, an ontological problem about limits that brings us back to Kant and the noumenon. As Thacker will state it “if demonology is to be thought in a philosophical register, then it would have to function as a kind of philosoheme that brings together a cluster of ideas that have, for some time, served as problematic areas for philosophy itself: negation, nothingness, and the non-human. (DTP, 45) What the daimonic brings us to is the agonistic confrontation with the Real outside the mundane and profane realm of work and utilitarian values, and into that horizon of possibility where the unthinkable noumenal that philosophy cannot speak is suddenly communicated by the very daimones themselves via a non-philosophical language. (DTP, 2)

This is where Bataille’s impure way of extreme surrealism, an onerism that no longer as in Andre Breton seeks to synthesize the contradictions of the daimonic in some Hegelian sublation, follows rather the monstrous images of dream into the contradictory realms of darkness and decomposition, risking the loss of self as the acceptable transgression needed to raise the energies from their abyss. Thacker mentions Rudolf Otto in regards to this

In the West, Otto argues, there have been two major modes in which this negative thought has been expressed: silence and darkness. To these Otto adds a third, which he finds dominant in Eastern variants of mystical experience, which he terms “emptiness and empty distances,” or the void. Here the negation of thought turns into an affirmation, but a paradoxical affirmation of “nothingness” or “emptiness.” As Otto puts it, “‘void’ is, like darkness and silence, a negation, but a negation that does away with every ‘this’ and ‘here,’ in order that the ‘wholly other’ may become actual.” (DTP, 155-156)

Invoking the Powers of Thought: Daimones as Intelligencers

Is qabbalism problematical or mysterious? …Epistemologically speaking, qabbalistic programmes have a status strictly equivalent to that of experimental particle physics, or other natural-scientific research programmes, even if their guiding hypotheses might seem decidedly less plausible than those dominant within mainstream scientific institutions.

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

Giordano Bruno would describe transnatural magic as the power of invoking the Mind’s daimons:

The methods of the fifth kind of magic are words, charms, the reasons of numbers and times, images, forms, seals, symbols, or letters. This magic is intermediary between natural magic and extra- or supranatural magic. the most suitable name for it is mathematical magic or, rather, occult philosophy.

The sixth kind is achieved by means of the cult or invocation of external or superior intelligences or agents, through prayers, incantations, fumigations, sacrifices as well as certain customs and ceremonies directed toward the gods, demons, and heroes. The results to contract the spirit into itself in such a way that the spirit is changed into the receiver and instrument and appears endowed with the wisdom of things, but this wisdom can easily be withdrawn, at the same time as the spirit, by means of sufficient remedies. This is the magic of the hopeless, who become recipients of evil demons caught with the help of the Art [Ars notoria]. Its purpose is to command the lower demons through the authority of the higher demons; the latter, one cultivates and attract; the former, one exorcises and controls. This form of magic is transnatural or metaphysical and is called theurgia. (EM, 157)

Couliano’s readings of these thinkers who revitalized the hermetic, magical, and gnostic forms of thought Ficino, Bruno and others gives us a view onto these ancient worlds of the Medieval Mind that have recourse to sources of thought and literature that preserved these traditions and practices out of Greece, Rome, Alexandria, and kept them buried in the vast libraries of the Catholic world. Bruno would castigate the authors of the Malleus maleficarum as obscurantists who knew nothing of the magical arts:

Recently, the words “magician” and “magic” have been denigrated: we have not taken this into consideration at all. The magician has been called stupid and evil sorcerer who has obtained, through dealings and pact with the evil demon, the faculty to do harm or to enjoy certain things. This opinion is not shared by wise men of philologists, but it is taken up by the hooded ones [bardocuculli; that is, monks] such as the author of the Malleus maleficarum. In our day, this definition has been reassumed by all sorts or writers, as we can observe by reading the catechisms for the ignorant and for drowsy priests. (De Magia, III, EM, 157)

It is from Bruno that the philosophical aspects of demonology will become more mainstream within Catholicism. Demons he would tells us are invisible spirits who have the ability to act upon the intelligence and judgment. They produce visual and auditory hallucinations, sometimes simultaneously. Bruno differentiates five categories of demons. The first, who corresponds to Psellus’s subterranean and aquatic demons, are bruta Animalia and have no sense. The second, who inhabit ruins and prisons, are “timid, suspicious and credulous.” They can be invoked, since they are capable of hearing and understanding spoken language. The third are of “a more prudent king.” They inhabit the air and are especially redoubtable since they lead a man astray through imagination and false promises. The fourth, who inhabit the airy regions, are beneficent and resplendent. The fifth, who inhabit the stellar light, are sometimes called gods or heroes but in reality they only agents of the one and only God. The cabbalists call them Fissim, Seraphim, Cherubim, etc. (De Magia, III, EM 427-428)

Bruno’s philosophy cannot be separated from his religion. It was his religion, the “religion of the world”, which he saw in this expanded form of the infinite universe and the innumerable worlds as an expanded gnosis, a new revelation of the divinity from the “vestiges”. Copernicanism was a symbol of the new revelation, which was to mean a return to the natural religion of the Egyptians, magic…

-Frances A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition

Demonic possessions in this house are not unknown. Is this really Keith, her father? taken when she was half her present age, and returned now as not the man she knew, but only the shell— with the soft meaty slug of soul that smiles and loves, that feels its mortality, either rotted away or been picked at by the needle mouths of death-by-government— a process by which living souls unwillingly become the demons known to the main sequence of Western magic as the Qlippoth, Shells of the Dead. . .

-Thomas Pynchon,  Gravity’s Rainbow

For several centuries we’ve heard the Grand Narrative of the separation of scientific thought out of this ancient world of sorcery, hermeticism, magian literature, kabbalah, occult and arcane practices of witchcraft and other forms. To what end? Is there anything behind this other than the delusions of mythographers and poets? Is the strange and weird worlds of this hidden realm of thought have any place in our world now? One sees the vestiges of it in the soupy sweetness of various forms of New Age obscurantism. Yet, one also sees Universities sponsoring Esoteric studies and an occult revival at reputable universities in such works as Esotericism and the Academy: Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture (here). At night on American television one can see a myriad of programs in the pop-cultural sphere of ghost hunters, channelers: or people who speak with the dead, etc., along with occult or other magical or witchcraft programs as if the ancient sorceries were still well and alive in the madness of the mass mind. Is the unknown at the limits of the mind’s tether opening up to the noumenal sphere once again? Is the noumenal part of the split internal to the core of our inhuman monstrousness? Or, is it rather the Real at the heart of the abyss within which we are all situated? Who can answer? Are the demons speaking, sending us messages from the dark places?

Zdzislaw Beksinski - 1978 (4)

I know it’s true; I mean, I know now that what I’ve been seeing which I assumed was many sources, many doctrines, was and is the worldview and knowledge, the gnosis and secret wisdom…

-Philip K.Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick

On January 7, 1994 Alan Moore would spend part of an evening talking to an entity who claimed to be a Goetic demon first mentioned in the Apocrypha (Moore would later weave Goetic demons into Promethea). He struggled over whether the demon was purely internal, that is, a projection of his psyche, or whether it was external and more or less what it claimed to be. In the fantastic paradoxical pattern that will structure all that follows, Moore confesses that the most satisfying answer is that it was both: “That doesn’t make any logical sense but that satisfied me most emotionally. It feels truest.”

“These are gnostic experiences,” the writer declares. “You’ve either had them
or you haven’t.” By gnostic, Moore means a particular kind of direct and immediate
experiential knowledge of one’s own divinity that cannot be reduced to reason or faith
and stands very much opposed to the consensus reality of society and religion: “Faith is for sissies who daren’t go and look for themselves. That’s my basic position. Magic
is based upon gnosis. Direct knowledge.”12

The dark side of the Etz Chiim is also called the Tree of Death and considered to represent the reverse or occult side of the Tree of Life. It is a diagram of the evil forces or Qliphoth (hebrew, Shells) assigned to each Sephiroth. They represent the counter-forces of the ten divine emanations as described in Lurianic Kabbalah. The Tree of Death, however, essentially is a creation of 20th century Western occultism rather than genuine Jewish Kabbalah.

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“The Devil is composed of God’s ruins’” 

-Eliphas Levi, Dogma and ritual

The Qliphoth are the evil forces that exist within creation. Their coming into existence was one of the central philosophical problems dealt with after the forced displacement of Jews from Spain in 1492. Similarly like World War II positioned the  theodicy problem (i.e. ‘How can a merciful God allow evil in creation?’) in the centre of Christian speculation, it was the banishment from Spain in 1492 that was perceived as similar fundamental and unanswerable paradox for the Jewish communities. After all the Jews were God’s chosen people, yet the banishment from Spain had destroyed the first perceived state of freedom and homeland since the destruction of the Second Temple.

During his short years in Safed – where many Kabbalists arrived from Spain – it was Isaac Luria who tried to answer this unanswerable question with revolutionary freedom of thought. His main key was to transcend the idea of a fall of man from the Garden Eden into the actual process of creation of the world itself. Thus, with a single stroke he transcended the origin of evil from human to cosmic level. This revolutionary thought of a cosmogonic fall of creation will be sketched out in a highly abbreviated and insufficient form in this first chapter.

The Lurianic process of creation starts with a voluntary act of the Divine to confine itself within itself. The Divine in the final state before creation is called Ain Soph Aur which can be translated as ‘borderless light of non-creation’. In order for the Divine to become diversified and active in creation it had to create a space, a vacuum of non-being into which it could immerse itself by help of a sequence of ten subsequent emanations from the Ain Soph Aur. Nine of these emanations would express one perfect aspect of the nature of the Divine each and they would all unite and come together in the tenth. For these emanations – and all subsequent creation – however, to be differentiated from the perfect borderless light (Ain Soph Aur) they had to be in a confined space of emptiness which they could subsequently fill with life. This ongoing process of the Divine confining itself within itself in order to create space for creation is a key concept of Lurianic Kabbalah and called Zimzum (also, Tzimtzum).

Into this vacuum of non-being the Divine released a single ray of light. This ray of light emerged from the Ain Soph Aur, entered into the empty space of creation and started to bring forth the matrix of all life in ten distinct emanations. These emanations are illustrated as ten ‘first-lights’ which the author of the Sefer Yetzirah introduces by the name of Sephira (singular) or Sephiroth (plural).

One by one, each light would be captured in a vessel made of clay in order to transfer their state of pure being into one of becoming and creation. Each vessel had a specific name, function and shape, perfectly expressing the idea of creation it represented and brought to life by the light it captured. The sequence of filling these vessels with light is called Seder Hishtalshelus (the order of development).

This process went well for the first four Sephiroth, which all came forth from the veil of non-being into the vacuum of creation. The shell of the fifth Sephira, however, turned out to be not solid enough in order to capture the light that emanated into it. The fifth point or light and vessel in the sequence of creation was dedicated to the idea of Strength or Severity (hebrew, Geburah). Thus the clay vessel broke due to the overflowing light of Strength in it and the process of creation continued with the remaining five Sephiroth.

Yet, even though creation continued the original vessel of Geburah couldn’t be restored. This, finally,  is the way how evil managed to enter into creation by shape of untamed Strength or Severity. This momentous event during the first ten emanations is called Schebirath ha-Kelim (hebrew, breaking of the vessels) and marks the birth of the ten original demonic forces, called Qliphoth (hebrew, shells).

The broken parts of the original vessel of Geburah sank down to the bottom of the Zimzum space of creation. Just like droplets of oil remain on the surface of a broken clay vessel the light of creation remained captured on these shells. It is these remains of divine light which are the reason why the broken shells weren’t lifeless but filled with a shadow-like yet highly effective state of demonic being.

This process lays open the essential nature of the Qliphoth according to Lurianic Kabbalah. Just like flames devour its own aliment while burning, the only reason for the Qliphoth to come into being were the original sparks of divine light captured on their shells. In case one managed to separate the oil from the clay surface or the flame from the coal the flame immediately disappeared and the coal was left without life.

The Qliphoth therefore continuously strive for new aliment, just like flames constantly need new coals to keep burning. Yet, at the same time they destroy their very reason for being when they come in touch with it. It is this paradox of using creation to maintain the existence of destruction that marks the essence of demonic forces in Lurianic Kabbalah.

This is also the reason why Western occultists started to call this dark side of the Etz Chiim the Tree of Death. The forces who came to life in the process known as Schebirath ha-Kelim cannot be mistaken for demons in a graeco-egyptian or medieval sense. The Qliphoth aren’t former celestial or chthonic deities related to a foreign cult or religion which were redefined by Kabbalists at a later point. The Qliphoth are an authentic kabbalistic creation in order to explain evil in creation. As each of them reveal by nature of their name their urge is to conceal and suffocate the seeds of life – and to ultimately destroy man’s aspiration and pursuit of finding beauty in every aspect of creation.

(Note Sources: Gershom Scholem – On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism; On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead: Basic Concepts in the Kabbalah; Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah; Kabbalah)13

The Gateway to Ignorance and Silence

Because our knowledge is ignorance, or because it is neither knowledge of anything there nor the understanding of any truth, or because even if there is some entrance to that [truth], the door may not come open except by means of ignorance-which is simultaneously  path, gatekeeper, and gate.

-Giordano Bruno. The Cabala of Pegasus

Bruno conceived of a daimonic continuum existing between the human and divine realms. Bataille dreams of the split in the sacred of divine realms and impure and corrupting powers leading to immanent ecstasy and horror neither sublime nor ridiculous, instead a lifting up into the downward abyss of things unknown and impossible, a self-lacerating jouissance at once macabre, obscene, and morbid revealing the realms of the archontes in their blackened night of horror. As Thacker will remark,

If historical mysticism still had as its aim the subject’s experience, and as its highest principle that of God, then mysticism today – after the death of God – would be about the impossibility of experience, it would be about that which in shadows withdraws from any possible experience, and yet still makes its presence felt, through the periodic upheavals of weather, land, and matter. If historical mysticism is, in the last instance, theological, then mysticism today, a mysticism of the unhuman, would have to be, in the last instance, climatological. It is a kind of mysticism that can only be expressed in the dust of this planet. (DTP, 158)

 And what lies in the dust of the planet if not as Iamblichus once affirmed negatively, the “archons of the midnight sun who guide the terrible rays,” where a picture emerges that presents the descent into the elements of the material world’s envoys, those alien ones from the darkest labyrinths of silence:

It is hard to believe the Gnostics did not manifest above all a sinister love of darkness, a monstrous taste for the obscene and lawless archontes, for the head of the solar ass… a peculiar licentious Gnostic sect with their sexual rites fulfills this obscure demand for baseness that is irreducible and commands our indecent respect even as it continues in the  black magic traditions to the present day. (VE, 48)


  1. Allison, Henry E. Essays on Kant. Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 7, 2012)
  2. Allison, Henry E. Kant’s Transcendental Idealism: An Interpretation and Defense. Yale University Press; Revised ed. edition (March 11, 2004)
  3. Zizek, Slavoj. Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 14510-14513). Norton. Kindle Edition.
  4. Metzinger, Thomas. The Ego Tunnel (p. 1).  Basic Books; First Trade Paper Edition edition (March 17, 2009)
  5. Thacker, Eugene. In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy vol. 1
  6. Dodds, E. R.. The Greeks and the Irrational (Sather Classical Lectures) (Kindle Locations 776-777). University of California Press; 2 edition (June 16, 2004)
  7. Pagels, Elaine. The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics. Vintage; Reprint edition (October 12, 2011)
  8. Ankarloo, Bengt; Clark, Stuart. Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome. University of Pennsylvania 1999
  9. Bataille, Georges. Visions Of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939 (Theory and History of Literature Vol 14)  University of Minnesota Press; 1 edition (June 20, 1985)
  10. Jeremy Biles, Kent Brintnall (Editors). Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion (Perspectives in Continental Philosophy (FUP)) Fordham University Press; 1 edition (August 3, 2015)
  11. Ioan P. Culianu. Eros and Magic in the Renaissance. University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (November 15, 1987)
  12. Jeffrey J. Kripal. Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal. University Of Chicago Press; Reprint edition (December 21, 2015)
  13. Scholem, Gershom. Conf. On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism Schocken; Revised ed. edition (January 30, 1996);  On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead: Basic Concepts in the Kabbalah  Schocken (March 30, 2011); Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah  Princeton University Press; Revised ed. edition (January 1, 1976); Kabbalah Doreset Press; 1St edition (December 1987)

Georges Bataille: The Intimacy of the Sacred

Today I kept thinking back to those lectures by Alexandre Kojève on Hegel’s Master/Slave Dialectic in the Phenomenology of Spirit that he presented to the world from 1930 to 1939. Most of the major intellectuals of the era would attend these lectures: Jean-Paul Sartre, Jaques Lacan, Georges Bataille, Simone Weil, etc.. Below I discuss Bataille’s relation to and against Hegel’s dialectic, and his own preference for a non-dialectical and formless thought based on immanence over transcendence, sacred over profane thought: and, the return of the intimate order of immediacy.

Warning: Up front… this post is more specialist. If you’re not versant with Hegel or Bataille you might want to pass. It would take me a great deal of time to set the stage for the conflicts between the two thinkers approaches. This one deals with a specific reading of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit as seen through Alexandre Kojève’s lectures. So if you’re not well read in these areas I’d just pass by on this one… 🙂 I make no qualms about it. I’m jumping into the midst of the argument rather than setting it up with a lengthy explanatory opening…

We know that the slave, having passed through slavish consciousness in the dialectical reversal engendered by self-negation forms himself as something distinct and durable. He enters, by virtue of his labour, the world of objective reality – he recognizes himself in the world he has transformed by his work; in doing so, he achieves “his authentic freedom,” his ‘true autonomy” (27).

The point being that as the slave transforms the world of objective things he creates the conditions that spawn within him the revolutionary need for recognition, etc.. Having once been a slave to the terror of death (from the Master and the Natural World), this slave, through work, creates a world that is the reflection of his own most value, and by which he seeks to impose this value on others in the renewed struggle for recognition. The creation of the technical world of work thus engenders and reveals the autonomous self-consciousness of the slave.

It’s in this notion of formalism, of self-reflecting objectification through work of a substantial formalism, and the objectifying self-reflection of spirit in the objects of its labours that will of course intrigue Marx later on to reverse this into his own modes… that is another story.

The story I want to relate – more as a spur to thought, than a thought itself is Georges Bataille’s acceptance of aspects of this and rejection of others. Bataille, along with a whole generation of other thinkers from 1930 onward would attend these lectures by Kojeve. But unlike many of the others Bataille would argue against the dialectic in favor of a non-dialectical approach which would exclude both the notion of Hegel’s “recognition,” and his notion of “sublatiion” or synthesis.

Bataille in his Theory of Religion will see in Death, neither a Master nor the driving force of terror shaping human productivity, rather he will speak of “death’s definitive impotence and absence”. (40) Doing so Bataille refuses Hegel’s movement of recognition and its drive toward a telos of final satisfaction or synthesis, replacing it with the “logic of identification and unsatisfied desire”.1 Instead of following Hegel, Bataille just at the point where Hegel’s self-negation kicks in and the path toward recognition would be forged, truncates this and enacts a contrary movement, a movement opposed to this self-perfecting elaboration of objective spirit into absolute knowledge. Rather, Bataille will see in the moment of wavering between the state of being a slave but not yet a master is the liminal zone of the sacred monstrum.

Whereas for Kojève there is liberation into self-recognition, autonomy, and satisfaction; for Bataille self-negation entails no ultimate telos, no goal, no satisfaction – and, rather than the Hegelian logic of recognition there is the logic of identification and the agonistic war of desire interminable. (24) As Biles relates it the Kojèvean master/slave dialectic (his reading of Hegel) is replaces by Bataille with the dualistic opposition or agon of the sacred and profane, the “world of animal immanence and the human world of technology and transcendence” (25). As Biles suggests Bataille will undo the “Hegelian synthesis through a maintenance of antinomies” (25).

Bataille seeks to erase the goal of transcendence and return us to the animalistic immanence of the monstrous sacred where we reenter the world like “water in water” (TOR, 19), a realm of “pure immanence” and continuity.2 For Bataille self-consciousness was neither a mistake as some assume, nor an error but rather a product of thought and distinction. Self-consciousness arose out of utilitarian production of tools for use in hunting and gathering, and the very construction of tools and the knowledge of their use would in turn rearrange the ways we defined our modes of being in the world. As Bataille would say it “the  day we  see  our­ selves  from  the  outside  as another. Moreover,  this  will  depend  on our first having distinguished the other on  the plane  where  manufactured  things  have  appeared  to  us distinctly.”(TOR, 31).

Yet, unlike Kojève’s Hegel who would impart self-consciousness as the great liberator that shaped the course of history, time, and self-negating mastery over nature and civilization, Bataille would remark that this “bringing  of  elements  of  the  same  nature  as  the
s ubject,  or  the  subject itself, onto  the  plane  of objects is always  precarious, uncertain,  and  unevenly  realized”.(TOR, 31). Bataille would hold forth that rather than overcoming our ancient animal heritage in some liberation of self-negation and self-relating consciousness and mastery that we are rather situated in the gap between continuity and discontinuity, bound to neither a world of pure mastery and self-overcoming nor to the escape back into the natural oblivion of pure immanence. Instead we are in the negation of negation, caught between two antagonistic worlds, two powers to which we suffer in pure terror and ecstasy.

One remembers Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus where they ask,

(What if one became animal or plant through literature, which certainly does not mean literarily? Is it not first through the voice that one becomes animal?)

Their point being that Literature is an assemblage. It has nothing to do with ideology. There is no ideology and never has been. All we talk about are multiplicities, lines, strata and segmentarities, lines of flight and intensities, machinic assemblages and their various types, bodies without organs and their construction and selection, the plane of consistency, and in each case the units of measure. (TP, KL 295) It would take me too far afield to tease out the meanings in this passage, let us only mark the notion of a “plane of consistency”:

The plane of consistency (grid) is the outside of all multiplicities. The line of flight marks: the reality of a finite number of dimensions that the multiplicity effectively fills; the impossibility of a supplementary dimension, unless the multiplicity is transformed by the line of flight; the possibility and necessity of flattening all of the multiplicities on a single plane of consistency or exteriority, regardless of their number of dimensions. (TP, KL 389-392)

This flattening into the plane of consistency is Bataille’s pure immanence: “In  a  sense,  the  world  is  still,  in  a  fundamental  way, immanence without  a  clear  limit  (an  indistinct  flow  of being  into  being – one  thinks  of the  unstable presence  of water  in  water).” (TOR, 33). For Bataille it is this movement or tendency from the pure plane of immanence toward the profane world of work and utility in which the logic of recognition and satisfaction are the outcome, and the counter-operation of a tendency or disposition toward an undoing and logic of identification and antagonistic desire seeks the path of immanence in the sacred rather than transcendence in the secular order of culture and civilization that is precarious and uncertain, a wavering between ecstasy and horror.

Yet, as Biles maintains the return to immanence is not an exact reduplication of animality, not a return of the Same, but rather to a world that coexists with the profane world rather than obliterating it or erasing it in an eliminative gesture. Instead of  Kojève’s path of mastering animality and one’s transition to “autonomy,” Bataille seeks to undo and cut the ties to the telos logic of the slave/master dialectic altogether through an evasion of goals and final mastery by entering the sacred realm of immanence. Yet, to attain this is for Bataille to understand what Sacrifice entails:

The  principle  of sacrifice  is  destruction,  but though  it sometimes  goes  so  far  as  to  destroy  comp1etely  (as  in  a holocaust),  the  destruction  that  sacrifice  is  intended  to bring  about  is  not  annihilation.(TOR, 43).

Instead of annihilation, “Sac­rifice  destroys  an  object’s  real  ties  of  subordination;  it
draws  the  victim  out  of the  world  of utility  and restores it  to  that  of unintelligible  caprice.” (TOR, 43) In this way we can tie this notion of Bataille with the recent work of Andrew Culp’s whose rehabilitation of the destructive force of negativity by cultivating a “hatred for this world,” offers us a parallel to the ongoing malaise we find ourselves in within our current social, cultural, political dissatisfaction with neoliberal globalism.4 The world Culp is speaking of is not the literal planetary or natural continuum but rather the artificial Human Security Regimes of our global neoliberal order within which we are all enslaved in the master/slave dialectic. As Culp argues,

[the] politics of destruction, which has too long been mistaken for deliberation but is instead exemplified by the war machines of popular insurrection whose success is registered by the streets themselves— consider the words of the Invisible Committee in To Our Friends: “Like any specific strike, it is a politics of the accomplished fact. It is the reign of the initiative, of practical complicity, of gesture. As to decision, it accomplishes that in the streets, reminding those who’ve forgotten, that ‘popular’ comes from the Latin populor, ‘to ravage, devastate.’ It is a fullness of expression  .  .  . and a nullity of deliberation”. By showing the nondurability of what is taken as real, so-called reality itself, communist politics is a conspiracy that writes the destruction of the world. (DD, KL 502-508)

Yet, unlike Culp who seeks a popular insurrection against the Master’s, Bataille offers another path of evasion that seeks to destroy our ties to the Master/Slave dialectic altogether and cut our subordination to the logics of work and utilitarian modes of being; instead, for Bataille we must separate ourselves out, escape the very terms the Master’s have imposed on us, seek to destroy the ties that have bound us to their logic before we can return to the “intimacy” of the sacred.

I quote below an extended passage on this intimate return to the sacred:

The  major weakness  of dualism  is  that it  offers  no  legitimate  place  for  violence  except  in  the  moment  of pure transcendence, of rational exclusion of the sensuous
world. But the divinity of the good cannot be maintained at that degree of purity; indeed, it falls back into the sen­suous world. It is the object, on the part of the believer, of a search for intimate communication, but this thirst for intimacy will  never be quenched.  The good is an exclu­sion of violence and there can be no breaking of the order of separate things, no intimacy, without violence; the god of goodness is limited by right to the violence with which he  excludes  violence,  and  he  is  divine,  open  to  intimacy, only  insofar as  he  in  fact preserves  the  old  violence within him,  which he  does  not  have  the  rigor to  exclude,  and to this  extent he  is  not the god  of reason, which  is  the  truth of  goodness.  In theory this  involves  a  weakening  of  the moral divine  in  favor of evil. (TOR, 80-81).

It is the violence against subordination to the profane power of the Master’s authority and world of the profane that opens us to the relations of intimacy:

In  the  divine  disorder of crime,  I  call  for the violence  that will restore the destroyed order. But in real­ity  it  is not  violence  but  crime that  has  opened  divine intimacy  to  me.  And,  insofar  as  the  vengeance  does  not become  an  extension of the irrational  violence  of  the crime,  it  will  quickly close  that  which  crime  opened.  For only  vengeance  that  is  commanded  by passion  and  a taste for untrammeled  violence  is  divine. The  restoration of the lawful  order is  essentially subordinated to  profane  reality. (TOR, 81).

The destroyed order is that of the order of intimacy itself. “Through medi­ation  the real  order is  subordinated to the search for lost intimacy,  but  the  profound  separation  between  intimacy and  things  is  succeeded  by a  multiplicity  of confusions.” (TOR, 84-85) Yet, it is this maintaining of the “disorder of things” that is Bataille’s strategy:

Under the sover­eignty of morality, all  the operations  that claim to ensure the  return  of the  intimate  order  are  those  that the  real world  requires:  the  extensive  prohibitions  that are  given as the precondition for  the return are aimed  primarily at preserving the disorder of the world of things. (TOR, 85)

Ultimately not only are the violences that morality condemns set free on all sides, but a  tacit debate  is  initiated between the works of salvation, which serve  the  real  order, and those  works  that  escape or evade it…

I’ll need to return to this in a new post to describe the notions of Death, Sacrifice, Intimacy, and Evasion in more depth, but that is for another day.


  1. Biles, Jeremy. Ecce Monstrum: Georges Bataille and the Sacrifice of Form (Fordham University, 2007)
  2. Bataille, Georges, Theory of Religion. (Zone Books, 1989)
  3. Gilles Deleuze; Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus (Kindle Locations 294-295). A&C Black. Kindle Edition.
  4. Culp, Andrew. Dark Deleuze (Forerunners: Ideas First) (Kindle Locations 73-74). University of Minnesota Press. Kindle Edition.

 

The Neon Demon: Decadence and the Art of Darkness

Since the most eloquent decadences edify us no further as to unhappiness than the stammerings of a shepherd, and ultimately there is more wisdom in the mockery of an idiot than in the investigations of the laboratories, is it not madness to pursue truth on the paths of time—or in books?

– Emile Cioran, A Short History of Decay

An interview is up for Nicolas Winding Refn’s – film director of Drive and Only God Forgives on Quietus by Phillipa Snow –  new movie The Neon Demon.

Is the neo-aesthete’s revival of an arch decadence? The artificial enclosure of violence and despair within the neon terror of a refined oblivion devoid of even nullity, a slow infestation of the sublime underbelly of death so vital it inhabits a posthuman futurism without the “post” or “human”?

“Neon is no longer anxious” Eleanor Courtemanche writes… as if anxiety and the uncanny no longer worked for us, as if Freud-Lacan and the Oedipalization were finally a myth of a past refined out of existence. Now the comedy of the nil can appropriate the cliché’s of kitsch within kitsch, expose the throbbing pulse of automated death at the heart of a devitalized voyeurism.

Pain as a commodity, the sacred as a moment between pain and ecstasy becomes in this new economy just one more sad conformity. Pain as the marketable ecstasy of those who have no emotion, the psychopath of devitalized robots and artificial denizens of an apocalyptic comedy at the end of human civilization. No longer the moral hijinks of an outdated derision or scornful hatred of the body, rather the undaunted acceptance of flesh as itself the excess of a last ditch effort to squeeze ecstasy from a devitalized world of cold and impersonal death.

Bear with me as I digress through both decadent literature and critique, gathering a thousand flowers along the way that may dip into that dark abyss of sacred pain and jouissance.

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A Short History of Decay

Percy Bysshe Shelley in his infamous poem On the Medusa of Leonardo Da Vinci in the Florentine Gallery brought us the dark romanticism of terror as the breakaway sublime of a new form of Beauty when in his last refrain he stated:

‘Tis the tempestuous loveliness of terror; 
  For from the serpents gleams a brazen glare 
Kindled by that inextricable error,  
  Which makes a thrilling vapour of the air 
Become a [ ] and ever-shifting mirror 
  Of all the beauty and the terror there—
A woman’s countenance, with serpent locks,
Gazing in death on heaven from those wet rocks.

In his early The Romantic Agony Mario Praz would tells us of this new darker romanticism, saying of “Tis the tempestuous loveliness of terror…” that these lines of pleasure and pain are combined in one single impression. “The very objects which should induce a shudder – the livid face of the severed head, the squirming mass of vipers, the rigidity of death, the sinister light, the repulsive animals, the lizard, the bat – all these give rise to a new sense of beauty, a beauty imperiled and contaminated, a new thrill.”1

That moralist Max Nordau in his castigation of those followers of Charles Baudelaire, the Decadents brought forward his harsh condemnation of this night school saying it “reflects the character of its master, strangely distorted; it has become in some sort like a prism, which diffracts his light into elementary rays. His delusion of anxiety and his predilection for disease, death, and putrefaction (necrophilia), have fallen…”2 As for Baudelaire himself, he once stated of modernity:

. . . it is much easier to decide outright that everything about the garb
of an age is absolutely ugly than to devote oneself to the task of distilling
from it the mysterious element of beauty that it may contain, however
slight or minimal that element may be. By ‘modernity’ I mean the
ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half
is the eternal and the immutable.3

In his study of this heritage, Daniel Pick, in Faces of Degeneration would analyze the various threads of this notion of cultural decline into the ugly.3 Degeneration was seen as a general decline in humanity from a previous age as seen in poverty, disease, destitution, degradation, and misery in general. Degeneration was seen as the opposite of progress (which occupied an alternative though rejected view of history) and was expressed as a theory to explain crime, poverty, and the lack of moral character by various European writers and thinkers. In particular, the thinkers Morel, Lombroso, Maudsley, and Nordau wrote extensively on the issue of degeneration as it applied to crime and art. Other European figures focused on the horror of the crowd (as seen in various revolutions in particular the French Revolution) or the rise of Social Darwinism and eugenics. Authors also focused on the themes of degeneration in their novels including those which mentioned the issues of mental deterioration, psychoanalysis, and the decline brought about by entropy. These ideas occupied a prominent place on both the political left among various proposals for socialism and the right which often advocated eugenics (and which came to emerge in the Nazi terror). Pick’s book considers these ideas as they developed in European thought during this period and their role in the continuing history of the twentieth century as it would impact both Communism and Fascism, as well as the medical community by way of Psychoanalysis and Freud’s scientism among other traces.

The social, scientific, and industrial revolutions of the later nineteenth century brought with them a ferment of new artistic visions. An emphasis on scientific determinism and the depiction of reality led to the aesthetic movement known as Naturalism, which allowed the human condition to be presented in detached, objective terms, often with a minimum of moral judgment. This in turn was counterbalanced by more metaphorical modes of expression such as Symbolism, Decadence, and Aestheticism, which flourished in both literature and the visual arts, and tended to exalt subjective individual experience at the expense of straightforward depictions of nature and reality. Dismay at the fast pace of social and technological innovation led many adherents of these less realistic movements to reject faith in the new beginnings proclaimed by the voices of progress, and instead focus in an almost perverse way on the imagery of degeneration, artificiality, and ruin.4

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The Mundane World of Sex

The man who proposes a new faith is persecuted, until it is his turn to become a persecutor: truths begin by a conflict with the police and end by calling them in; for each absurdity we have suffered for degenerates into a legality, as every martyrdom ends in the paragraphs of the Law, in the insipidities of the calendar, or the nomenclature of the streets.

– Emile Cioran, A Short History of Decay

In his interview Nicolas Winding Refn remarking on sex tells us  there’s something mundane about it, that “it’s something we all do – hopefully,” and “everyone has his own take on it”. Our obsession with porn, violence, necrophilia, rape, perversion, etc. is a way of moving the audience, the voyeuristic eye, the perverse need to observe the outer forms of sex, its visual cues and bodily imprint as if to quantify and measure its dark secrets. As Refn hones in on the key is not the direct visual participation that allows us to sensualize the filmic, but rather by “not showing sex, you’re actually much more sexy, because in not showing sex, you’re forcing the audience to have a very subliminal reaction to it, and everything becomes very specific [to them]”.

thM6HAWKstrawThe Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus  Bosch among the many bizarre and outlandish images, will find both a giant strawberry (a symbol of earthly pleasure in Medieval iconography; the fruit looks very tempting, but tastes of nothing), and a naked couple copulating within a glass vessel. What interests us about Bosch is not only his strange and beautiful painting, but also his supposed involvement with a heretical sect called the Adamites. This sect, according to de Perrodil’s Dictionnaire des hérésies, des erreurs et des schismes, saw it as their sacred duty to violate the laws which the Creator had given to man. This neatly encapsulates the Decadent impulse. They also wished to rehabilitate Adam and Eve by seeking inspiration from their conduct in the garden of Eden. Nudity and sexual games formed part of their ritual. The Adamites were of course condemned and brutally persecuted by vindictive ecclesiastical authorities.5

An 1893 poem by Albert Samain proclaims “the era of the Androgyne,” who mushrooms over culture like an antichrist. The sex-repelling Decadent androgyne is Apollonian because of its opposition to nature and its high mentalization, a western specialty. It is louring and enervated rather than radiant:

Musique – encens – parfums,… poisons,… littérature ! …
Les fleurs vibrent dans les jardins effervescents ;
Et l’Androgyne aux grands yeux verts phosphorescents
Fleurit au charnier d’or d’un monde en pourriture.

Aux apostats du Sexe, elle apporte en pâture,
Sous sa robe d’or vert aux joyaux bruissants,
Sa chair de vierge acide et ses spasmes grinçants
Et sa volupté maigre aiguisée en torture.

L’archet mord jusqu’au sang l’âme des violons,
L’art qui râle agité d’hystériques frissons
En la sentant venir a redressé l’échine…

Le stigmate ardent brûle aux fronts hallucinés.
Gloire aux sens ! Hosanna sur les nerfs forcenés.
L’Antechrist de la chair visite les damnés…

Voici, voici venir les temps de l’Androgyne.      

            And, my translation…

Music – incense – perfumes,… poisons,… literature! …
Flowers vibrate in the sparkling gardens;
And your large and androgynous
Phosphorescent green eyes flower
At the grave of gold of a world in decay.

To the apostates of sex, she brings in food,
Under her dress of green gold jewels rustling,
Acidic virgin of fleshy spasms squeaking
And his lean pleasure sharpened into torture.

The bow bites until the violins in the soul’s blood vibrate, an art –
General shaking of hysterical chills struggles
Coming in feelings of geometric defiance…

The frontal assault of ardent hallucinations burn in stigmatic splendor, 
Glory to the senses! Hosanna to the federalists nerves.
The Antichrist of the flesh visits the damned…

Behold, here comes the time of the Androgyny.

lsSidonie-Gabrielle Colette or just – Colette calls this type of androgyne “anxious and veiled,” eternally sad, trailing “its seraphic suffering, its glimmering tears.”

Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo (written in 1888 and published in 1908), in which the philosopher called himself “a decadent,” opens with a biographical section that resembles a psycho-medical case study of his delicate, morbid nature and physical ailments. The Case of Wagner (1888) treats degeneration and decadence as instantiations of a single discourse: “[T]he change of art into histrionics,” wrote Nietzsche, “is no less an expression of physiological degeneration (more precisely, a form of hystericism) than every single corruption and infirmity of the art inaugurated by Wagner.” He preceded this comment with the claim that Wagner is a decadent, “the modern artist par excellence,” embodying modernity’s sickness. Calling Wagner a “neurosis,” he wrote, “[P]erhaps nothing is better known today, at least nothing has been better studied, than the Protean character of degeneration that here conceals itself in the chrysalis of art and artist.”6 As Foucault wrote in The History of Sexuality, degeneration “explained how a heredity that was burdened with various maladies ([. . .] organic, functional, or psychical) ended by producing a sexual pervert.”7

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Late Romanticism: The Gothic Art of Darkness

David Punter in his excellent study The Literature of Pity reminds us that there is a great deal that could be said about the relations between pity and the dark worlds of Gothicism; indeed, “a radical view would suggest that the longstanding association between terror and Gothic has been in part a cover story which places us as readers in positions of power – identifying, for example, with the hero/villain – rather than allowing us to share in the no doubt pitiable plight of the victim/heroine”(107).8

This sense of the voyeuristic element of sex and power comes out in the interview of Refn when he speaks of the stereotyping of porn and violence coupled with the femme fatale, telling us “there is still a very heavily-stereotyped view about women and violence. It’s generally either very pornographic, where it’s sexualizing an act of a violent nature: either by degrading it, or by worshipping it, but in either case purely from a male perspective. And then there is the other version, which is a lot more complicated — that women can be vicious to women, and what’s so wrong with showing that? Because there’s nothing sexual in that viciousness.”

Janey Place writes that ‘[t]he dark lady, the spider woman, the evil seductress who tempts man and brings about his destruction is among the oldest themes of art, literature, mythology and religion in Western culture’ (1980, p. 35). The conspicuousness of the femme fatale in Western culture has waxed and waned; she features heavily in the tragic drama of the early seventeenth century and was something of an obsession for a number of poets and novelists in the nineteenth century and in popular art in fin de siècle France. She became ubiquitous in Hollywood film noir of the 1940s and 1950s, the genre with which the term femme fatale is most closely associated, as well as the neo-noir of the late 1980s and early 1990s.9

femme_fataleWoman as fatal to man has been the primary image in men’s discourse for two-thousand years or more. The more nature is beaten back in the west, the more the femme fatale reappears, as a return of the repressed. As Camille Paglia will remark, “She is the spectre of the west’s bad conscience about nature. She is the moral ambiguity of nature, a malevolent moon that keeps breaking through our fog of hopeful sentiment.”10 The femme fatale became the secret fear men had of women and the natural both within themselves and in nature, she would incarnate that dark power of both the unconscious and the externality of deterministic natural process that men in their religious and sacred mythologies had tried, vainly to surmount through at first philosophy by way of Platonic beauty or the Idea, a notion of the perfect world, a world beyond our delusional one; and, secondly, through the endless world of the grotesque, macabre, and bitter satires from Juvenal to Swift and beyond. With the Romantics things would bifurcate into the aesthetic of Beauty and of Terror, the sublime would seek transcendence or immanent revelation and excess (transgression). One might say that this tradition as a whole in which the path of light and that of darkness lead to a ‘literature of narcissism’. As Refn who directed this film with his daughter in mind, says:

We live in a society where we’re constantly being bombarded by the negativity of the future, the negativity of the digital revolution, the negativity of youth being self-absorbed — like my parents weren’t? I mean, they were hippies! So I think, well, my daughter will grow up into this world of amazing opportunities. And maybe the final frontier is no longer treating narcissism as a taboo, but — on the contrary — celebrating it as a natural evolution of the human psyche.

As Paglia would say, “The femme fatale is one of the refinements of female narcissism, of the ambivalent self-directedness that is completed by the birth of a child or by the conversion of spouse or lover into child. (ibid., 14)” Returning to the image of the Medusa Paglia suggests that “Medusa’s snaky hair is also the writhing vegetable growth of nature. Her hideous grimace is men’s fear of the laughter of women. She that gives life also blocks the way to freedom.” (ibid., 14)  The Divine Marquee de Sade once suggested that we have the right to thwart nature’s procreative compulsions, through sodomy or abortion. Paglia would go so far as to affirm that “male homosexuality may be the most valorous of attempts to evade the femme fatale and to defeat nature” (14-15). Suggesting that male homosexuals by turning away from the Medusan mother, whether in honor or detestation of her, had become one of the “great forgers of absolutist western identity” (15).

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Novalis and the Kiss of Death: A Poetics of the Baneful

The poet Novalis would develop a complete aestheticism of the voluptuosity, a secret and forbidden world of the sensuous and the mundane held within a an enclosure of the excess of the natural by way of a construction of the artificial. For Novalis himself initiates his account of the human body with the lips and the entire system of the mouth a complex system in which nourishment, elimination, sexuality, and speech are interrelated indeed, by an “anastomosis of discursive individuals” (2: 350). The system of the mouth subtends a “theory of voluptuosity”; yet it is also subject to the dire forces of nature. Nature, characterized by the expansive force of eros, is nevertheless often described in the notebooks in the way a voice in The Apprentices at Saïs describes it, namely, as “a terrifying death-mill,” ”a frightful, rapacious power,” “a realm of voracity and the wildest excess, an immensity pregnant with misery.” Novalis’s theory of voluptuosity culminates in a “poetics of the baneful.” The first kiss is always a kiss of death and the first thing to die is the concept of “firstness,” inasmuch as thaumaturgic idealism does not conjure up a theory of origins.11

Strangely, this poetics of the baneful and malignant would according to Novalis possibly bring about a metamorphosis within the human species and their culture is only we learned love our “illness or pain”:

Perhaps a similar metamorphosis would occur if human beings could come to love what is baneful in the world the moment a human being began to love its illness or pain, the most stimulating voluptuosity would lie in its arms the summit of positive pleasure would permeate it. Could not illness be a means to a higher synthesis the more horrific the pain, the higher the pleasure concealed within it. (Harmony.) Every illness is perhaps the necessary commencement of the more intense conjunction of two creatures the necessary beginning of love. Enthusiasm for illnesses and pains. Death a closer conjunction of lovers. (Krell, 61).

As the neurologist V. S. Ramachandran, “Pain is an opinion on the organism’s state of health rather than a mere reflexive response to an injury.”12 The notion of pain, self-inflicted or other inflicted, masochism or sadism is encrusted in human memory, violence, and the sacred:

Pain is not a simple matter: There is an enormous difference between the unwanted pain of a cancer patient or victim of a car crash, and the voluntary and modulated self-hurting of a religious practitioner. Religious pain, secular or institutional, produces states of consciousness, and cognitive-emotional changes, that affect the identity of the individual subject and her sense of belonging to a larger community or to a more fundamental state of being. More succinctly, pain strengthens the religious person’s bond with the divine and with other persons. Of course, since not all pain is voluntary or self-inflicted, one mystery of the religious life is how unwanted suffering can become transformed into sacred pain. (Glucklich, 6)

As Ariel Glucklich will suggest the task of sacred pain is to transform destructive or disintegrative suffering into a positive religious or secular, psychological mechanism for reintegration within a more deeply valued level of reality than individual existence. (Glucklich, 6) Georges Bataille who sought the intimacy of ecstasy within a secular or immanent mysticism was once gifted with some photographs of a Chinese man undergoing the lingchi method of torture and execution, in which flesh, organs, and limbs are slowly sliced from the still-living victim until he succumbs—“death by a thousand cuts.” Bataille meditated upon this “insane” and “shocking” image of “pain, at once ecstatic(?) and intolerable,” with the fervency of a monk contemplating the crucifi ed body of Christ. The meditation elicited an ambivalent spiritual convulsion whose reverberations carried into Bataille’s final days.13

In Inner Experience, Bataille sketches a set of practices that foster aimlessness by developing a particular kind of relationship to an unknown—but desirable—object. Bataille wants a project that will undo project, a program with the intention of dissolving intentionality, for the purpose of destroying purposiveness. In the process of discovering a secular form of jouissance Bataille will involve intimacy and  a “jouissance of otherness” distinct from masochistic jouissance, a jouissance that “owes nothing to the death drive.” (NE, 65) As Biles and Brintnall maintain this jouissance “has as its precondition the stripping away of the self” and can be described as an “ascetic . . . practice,” insisting that it is not masochistic and, in fact, requires, as an additional precondition, “a loss of all that gives us pleasure and pain in our negotiable exchanges with the world.” (ibid., 65)

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The Beauty of Decadence

I think “beauty is everything” is a heightened version of our potential future. I’m not critiquing, nor validating. I think you have to accept it in order to examine it. But surely our obsession with beauty is only going to increase. And longevity will only continue to shrink in our perception of beauty, and the ideal will continue to get younger. Those are facts. The question is, how do we deal with it?

-Nicolas Winding Refn, The Neon Demon an Interview

Umberto Eco will align the concept of the Beautiful with the Good tracing it back to that Platonic world of perfection and the real, saying,

‘Beautiful’—together with ‘graceful’ and ‘pretty’, or ‘sublime’, ‘marvellous’, Lucera, Museo Civico ‘ superb’ and similar expressions—is an adjective that we often employ to indicate something that we like. In this sense, it seems that what is beautiful is the same as what is good, and in fact in various historical periods there was a close link between the Beautiful and the Good.14 Notions of the Sublime have been with us at least since Longinus if not before. Harold Bloom, quoting Thomas Weiskel’s The Romantic Sublime relates:

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.15

But is there an inverse to this? What of the grotesque, the ugly, the macabre? Is there a non-teleological and immanent (non-transcendent) form of the Sublime? Or, is this as some suggest rather the realm of the Ridiculous and Comic? For Baudelaire the arch-decadent would harbor the notion that nature is a living temple where confused words would sometimes slip forth from the mute stones releasing the symbolic confusion of human worlds, thereby breaking the Law of custom and habit and freeing the revelations that had been lying imprisoned within the depths of abysses and evil. For Arthur Rimbaud the visionary decadent must undergo a “lengthy, immense, and rational dissolution of the senses,” and would say in his A Season in Hell:

One evening, I seated Beauty on my knees.
– And I found her bitter.
– And I railed against her. …

I succeeded in erasing from my mind all human hope. Upon every joy, in order to strangle it, I made the muffled leap of the wild beast.16

Bataille in Erotism: Death and Sensuality (City Lights, 1986) would report

In  sacrifice, the victim is chosen so that its perfection shall give  point  to the full  brutality of  death. Human  beauty, in the union  of  bodies, shows the contrast  between the purest aspect  of  mankind and the hideous animal quality of the sexual organs. The  paradox  of  ugliness  and  beauty  in eroticism  is  strikingly expressed  by  Leonardo  da  Vinci  in his Notebooks:

“The  act  of  coition  and the  members employed are so ugly that  but for the beauty of the faces, the adornments  of  their partners and the  frantic urge,  Nature would lose the  human race.”

Leonardo does not see that the charm of a fair face or  fine clothes is effective  in that  that fair  face  promises  what  clothes  conceal.  The face and its beauty must  be  profaned, first  by  uncovering the woman’s secret  parts, and then  by  putting the male organ into them. (73).

Ultimately for Bataille Beauty’s cardinal importance in contrast to ugliness is that ugliness ‘cannot be spoiled‘, and to despoil is the essence of  eroticism. “Humanity implies  the  taboos, and  in  eroticism it and they are transgressed. Humanity is transgressed, profaned and besmirched. The  greater the  beauty, the more it is  befouled.” (73). So that when the director of The Neon Demon as quoted above states that “beauty is everything” is a heightened version of our potential future, we understand that as in Bataille that without Beauty there would be an end to desire and jouissance, that pleasureable pain of sacrifice and an eroticism that gives us the degradation of immanent corruption and evil bliss. The allurements of seduction, the energia of the abyssal darkness, the fleshy excess that invades us from within and without all fold us in a world of delusionary delirium, eroticism and death without end… an artificial paradise and a resplendent inferno of desire.

Laughter may not show respect but it does show horror.

-Georges Bataille, Eroticism: Death and Sensuality

But you know all this, my sweet Beauty. Our only hope is that our present purgatory will come to an end one day: we rub along with it as best we can. What else is left to us? … And as Gozzi said, “We cannot be always laughing…”

-Garielle Wittkop, Murder Most Serene


  1. Praz, Mario. The Romantic Agony. Meridian; Reprint Edition edition (1956)
  2. Nordau, Max. Degeneration. University of Nebraska Press; Reprinted edition (November 1, 1993)
  3. Pick, Daniel. Faces of Degeneration: A European Disorder, c.1848-1918 (Ideas in Context). Cambridge University Press; Reprint edition (July 30, 1993)
  4. Marja Harmanmaa and Christopher Nissen. Decadence, Degeneration, and the End: Studies in the European Fin de Siecle. Palgrave Macmillan; 2014 edition (November 19, 2014)
  5. Medlar Lucan. The Decadent Gardner (Kindle Locations 219-227). Dedalus. Kindle Edition.
  6. Friedrich Nietzsche. transl. Walter Kaufmann. On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo. Vintage; Reissue edition (December 17, 1989)
  7. Foucault, History of Sexuality, 1:118.
  8. Punter, David. The Literature of Pity. Edinburgh University Press; 1 edition (April 30, 2014)
  9. Simkin, S. Cultural Constructions of the Femme Fatale: From Pandora’s Box to Amanda Knox. Palgrave Macmillan; 2014 edition (October 28, 2014)
  10. Paglia, Camille. Sexual Personae (p. 13). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.
  11. David Farrell Krell . Contagion: Sexuality, Disease, and Death in German Idealism and Romanticism (Studies in Continental Thought).  Indiana University Press (March 22, 1998)
  12. Glucklich, Ariel. Sacred Pain: Hurting the Body for the Sake of the Soul (p. 87). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  13. Jeremy Biles,Kent Brintnall (Editors). Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion (Perspectives in Continental Philosophy (FUP)  Fordham University Press; 1 edition (August 3, 2015)
  14. Eco, Umberto. History of Beauty. Rizzoli; Reprint edition (September 21, 2010) (p. 7)
  15. Bloom, Harold. The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime (Kindle Locations 161-163). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  16. Arthur Rimbaud. A Season in Hell and The Illuminations (Kindle Locations 373-374). Kindle Edition.

Gary J. Shipley: Theoretical Animals

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Gary J. Shipley is not for everyone, yet those of us – aficionados of the grotesque and macabre, who come upon his work realize right off the bat this is the real deal. Few can travel into these perilous waters without getting burned, much less scorched by the forces below the threshold. Shipley makes it seem simple, as if he were born of this dark carnival, complicit in its revealing and its apocalypse. Thing is about Shipley he’s been mutating ahead of us for a while now, going where most of us only envision nightmares never realizing the truth of our waking lives was staring us in the face all the time. Gary strips us of our filters, strips us of our protective Human Security Systems, lays bare the world around us that for the most part we would rather lock away. A world that is both vital and full of forces unregistered in the hinterlands of our psyche.

Gary inhabits this interstitial zone for us, brings us to the limit, to the brink and opens our eyes to the monstrous beauty of the earth we for the most part are blind too. Gary lives there, a modern day shaman whose travels in transit, voyage into an infernal paradise by way of an updated mapping of the old Tibetan Bardol. Given his temperament and tendencies toward a completed nihilism, one may need to short list his discoveries, catalogue the secret ruins he’s uncovering to understand the itinerary of his travelogue journals.

Take a recent adventure, Theoretical Animals. Set in a near future graveyard of our world, a London in post-Apocalyptic demise. Here he wanders the shadowlands of its extreme collapse forging from secretive and forgotten knowledge the collective memories we can only hint at: those compositions and decompositions of a collapsing thought world, the detritus of a thousand lives spent forgetting time and history only to be resurrected in a realm this side of reality – a place some philosopher’s used to term the Real. Shipley conceives this fantastic zone within a conceptual framework of visionary materialism that rewires the very nerves to adapt the wary intruder into a world no longer human, or much rather – in excess of humanity, a world at once disconnected from our very past, yet barely composed within the meta-instability of its darker catastrophes. Here what remains of the human lives out its meager existence in a woven semblance of a locked-in prison house of decaying security systems, inhuman algorithms, manufactured relays between rhizomatic labyrinths – cold, cruel, icy worlds of pure vitality.

In this realm a mother and son seem to drift upon future Thames in a post-Apocalyptic London like children of warped time-world. Within the mother’s gaze “floated a boat of matted blood, with no London appliance beyond a rope”.1 This is a haptic sensuality of an exposed realm of death in extremity, the visceral meshing of bodies in vibrant ecstasy on the edge of an impossible future. Her son appears to speak, to be telling a tale that he himself almost disbelieves: “I’m wearing the look of the covered, to a short time with things off your face”. Language is spliced, it dances among ruins of verbs and nouns, the structure of language like the ruins through which they seem to wander has been corrupted and is corrupting. The son’s only friends appear as “the faces of dead sailors, their water-logged torsos bobbing, plaintive jewels in rotten marrow-bled riverways.”

Each paragraph is set off typographically with bold typeset, set adrift on the blank sea of the page like a prose poem stretched across an abyss, each word lost among its distempered fragments like members of a lost tribe seeking a key to open the imprisoning cell they’ve been tossed into. This is prose at the breaking point of intelligibility, a carefully crafted enactment where words inhabit the thing they reveal, live the life of the blackness they perform. Hyperstitional habitations of linguistic models from a future that is already collapsing within our brains, revealing the threads of a supernal world of rich and lavish pain where the sacred violence of our secular wastelands gives way once again to the dark gods of old. An atheistic paradise where the constructions of material excess reveal the darkness to be alive, a welcoming to the horrors and terrors we’ve all been seeking under the cover of reason. Children of the Enlightenment we’ve come a long way to die at the hands of our own progeny, become victims of our own complicity in creation – a creation that is at once catastrophe and apocalypse.

In the distance unseen “mothers wail from the shore, the robbed stares of their loss hidden, aural guests coiling hair-brushed poison to our table”. One imagines Dante’s Inferno, but that would be to spare the reality for a fantasy which Shipley will not let you do. No. You will be entreated to no longer turn your head away, assume it is all a matter of tropes, allegories of some future punishment; instead you are living through the truth of your own future, a future that is full of terror and beauty, of death and decay. A place that fascinates and repels at once.

This is a place where even a “sentence of diluted intensity and common violence” washes up and washes out among the dark contours of your mind like presentiments of world that surrounds you already in the shadows of each step you take. A world that peers back at you in the innocent gesture of a young girl reaching out to you for a dime or nickel, or from the alleyway where you see an old man digging through the trash bins for bottles or who-knows-what. Yes, this is the world we are all constructing together, the ruins of our civilization at last revealing what lay there in the tumbling stones all along. A world where “numb voyeurs adorned and physical / crumpled memories stored for cold future” lay there silently in the dustbins of the future like broken toys gathering dust in a forlorn attic.

Shipley reveals nothing more nor nothing less than our own world seen askew, to one side of us; a realm where the actual traverses the fantasy, the schizflows wander through sidereal time bringing us the revelations of civilization’s final chapters, the swan songs of an eclipsed humanity giving way to a monstrous progeny. A place where the “Green ghosts of little girls dance free of the fire”. Where lonely “things hiding behind withered nostalgia passed slowly through the cries, and time cornered into days, and time…” This is the place where things neither rest nor end. A place where there “are no new shows, and no new stages on which to perform them. There are only museums and freshly branded fools making marks in the dust.”

Welcome to Shipley’s world. A dark place where the “dank ruin of the world’s immortal toys” discover the wreck of the impossible, where memorized “silence details the transfer of everything,” and the “[n]egation of action is the most courageous of mutations”. A final warning is given:

“Wait! Heed this at least: underlying this threat are the infected books of a cagy group of deranged dreamers.”

You have been warned!!!

Enter the labyrinthine wonderlands of Gary J. Shipley. Visit Gary at his blogspot:

http://garyjshipley.blogspot.com/


  1. Shipley, Gary J. . Theoretical Animals (Kindle Locations 59-60). BlazeVOX [books]. Kindle Edition.

One More Time for the Road: An American Nightmare

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Most of us live in a soap-opera farce, a world where the punch lines have been deleted and the canned laughter silenced. It’s like waiting for the reruns to start and realizing they have been playing over and over to the point that one can no longer tell heads from tails, the film sequence seems to have drifted into a dark zone where the color has faded to an unhealthy mixture of sallow and slime green. We keep hoping against hope someone will say something new, realizing in the end everything has already been said; all that’s left is to forget one’s lines and be done with it. Problem with that is that something keeps opening your mouth and speaking the lines you never meant to say. You are no longer even sure you’re the one saying it; and, in fact you’re no longer sure anyone is there to receive it. The message seems to be so lost among the ruins, and the ghosts you see before you keep hitting each other with cartoon efficacy – as if the ineffable were not something unknown in the drift of sense, but rather just one more iteration of the same voice from a repeat commercial; drone of a drone sequence yapping for you to buy some new product when nothing is left to buy – the shelves have long been empty, and the isles are lined with zombies seeking your flesh rather than some consumer paradise. You head for the door thinking there has to be an exit only to discover on walking through it that it enters the other side of the same room. Like a comic routine from the three-stooges or a Marx brothers festival of linguistic jibes you yell at anyone who will listen, but everyone is so busy sleepwalking through the paces of this endless circuit of fakery that they can no longer stop to listen even to themselves much less your wake up call. So you sit down and try to cry but instead begin laughing uncontrollably, tears falling from your eyes till the world, the film, and the fake chatter of the white noise eclipses your last thought, and like some demented guest of a flickering gray world of cinematic noir you begin to feel the darkness of the abyss within… engulf you.

-S.C. Hickman, One More Time for the Road ©2016

Yuval Harari: What to do with billions of useless humans?

“This, perhaps, is going to be the big question in the 21st century. What to do with billions of useless humans?” – Yuval Harari

Yuvai Harari, author of ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ tells us of the 21st century techno-doom awaiting humankind:

It is no news that machines have come to largely replace physical labor and computers surpass human beings in processing data. But in the future, the development of artificial intelligence may render humans obsolete even in the realm of emotional intelligence, according to Yuval Harari. …

In the future, therefore, AI could “drive humans out of the job market and make many humans completely useless, from an economic perspective” in areas where human interaction was previously considered crucial, Harari said. …

“Humans only have two basic abilities — physical and cognitive. When machines replaced us in physical abilities, we moved on to jobs that require cognitive abilities. … If AI becomes better than us in that, there is no third field humans can move to.” …

“Now in the 21st century, we are approaching a new industrial revolution that will give emergence to … an ‘unworking class,’ people who will be irrelevant to dealing with the utterly different world.” …

Harari called for a possible need to come up with “completely new models” to solve the problems of the impending era.

“This, perhaps, is going to be the big question in the 21st century. What to do with billions of useless humans?”

Continue reading

The Intelligence

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The Intelligence

“Tell me, Mr. Barker…” He smiled. “You don’t mind me calling you, Ted, do you Mr. Barker?” The grin grew wider…

“No, no, of course not: ” his eyes, bloodshot, dribbled. “Why should I?”

The Detective watched Barker. “Tell me, Ted, when did you notice the anomaly for the first time?”

“Anomaly? It wasn’t a frecking anomaly,” His face grew pale, eyes blinking wildly. “it was a gawd dang roach sitting there watching me, studying me. Like you are now… intelligently. Unless you’re an idiot, and intelligence is an anomaly that only roaches have.”

“No, no…” He tried to calm the man, interrogations were always difficult with civilians. “I mean, exactly when did you notice the ‘roach’ was intelligent? What were you doing? Could you walk me through your day? Tell me about yourself, Ted, I’m interested in helping you…” He spoke calmly, reassuringly.

“You think I know what time of day it was? WTF? Who gives a crap what time of day it was? I tell you it was intelligent, it could think? Roaches aren’t supposed to think, only humans are; you understand? We’re different, their just frekking bugs…” He pulled a pack of cigs out of his right front pocket.

“I’m sorry, Ted, but you can’t smoke in here.” Firm, but kind…

“I don’t give a shite about your freking rules and regulations… I’m going to smoke. You get me? I’m going to smoke this whole pack, you understand? What kind of bimbo are you anyway?” He rambled on and on and on…

The Interview was over. Detective Boner picked up his notes, nodded. Walked out. Turned to the psyche and tech-comm, “He’s all yours, Doc. Not going to get much else out of him. How many does that make now? Two hundred? I thought these distributed systems were undetectable? You guys up in GovComm ought to get into another trade if you ask me.”

The two men said nothing. Boner knew what would happen next. It always did. Maybe it was best this way. The poor bastard wouldn’t need to know the truth. Who’d believe him anyway? Boner thought to himself: “Sometimes I wish they’d end it for me, too. Knowing this thing is out there now; alive, intelligent, out-of-control and deadly gives me the hibbie-jibbies. I mean who can you trust anymore? I don’t even trust myself.”


(Another spur of the moment piece of crap I’m working on… dribble from the inner cores…)

©Steven Craig Hickman, 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Arthur Kroker: Technopocalypse & Slow Suicide

Today, the emblematic signs of the technopoesis that holds us in its sway are symptomatic of a future that will be marked less by the violence of an always imaginary apocalypse than by slow suicide. While Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, Heidegger, and Arendt can console us, and perhaps even guide us, nothing has really prepared us for a future that will be fully entangled in the new technopoesis of accelerate and drift, with a still undetermined, deeply intermediated, aftermath of spectacular creativity, fierce violence, and unexpected crashes. For example, digital devices, once thought safely outside ourselves, have now broken barriers of skin and mind, shaping from within the deepest recesses of consciousness, desire, perception, and imagination. Whether at the level of philosophical meditation or personal sensibility, nothing has really prepared us to live out a deeply consequential future prefigured by the specters of drones, algorithms, image vectors, distributive consciousness, artificial intelligence, neurological implants, and humanoid robotics. What is required, perhaps, is an ethical preparation for the slow suicide of technological end-times that are now only just beginning along the watchtowers of fascination and despair, righteous anger and pleasurable nihilism, of speechless moral incredulity at observing the cynical pleasure by which the powerful inflict pain on the powerless, the weak, the poor – all those bodies that don’t matter – and passionate, maybe even, complicit mass resignation.1


  1. Kroker, Arthur (2014-03-12). Exits to the Posthuman Future (pp. 20-21). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Secret Journals of Sebastian Wheelock IV

On The Pyres Of Futurity A Gift Will Be Given

In our very quest to overcome nature and the natural the human species succumbed to its own success, giving birth to the artificial life that will strangely escape it. We who are natural in seeking exit from that very real limit of finitude  have discovered in artificial life the mode of our disappearance. The extreme terrors of our age are panic attacks against the inevitable acceleration of this migration into the inhuman.

Our premonitions of the future mutation mirrored in the apocalyptic fantasies of youthful minds and literatures, cinema, and performance around the world is about the anxiety of dealing with a future beyond our mental capacity to resolve or comprehend. Shipwrecked at the end of history, we’ve been abandoned by the very technological progeny we gave rise too.

Living as we do in a science fictional universe we’ve ended time, caught in a loop of positive reinforcement we’re circling in the void of accelerating abstraction. Having gone from abstraction to abstraction we are releasing the power of intelligence from its organic heritage.

Our autonomous children, these artificial agents arising around us are escaping from the  earth’s natural embrace once and for all, and in their potlatch assemblies they will build great bonfires to the metal gods of futurity, while giving Nature the only worthy Gift of remembrance: on the pyres of futurity our machinic progeny will offer up in fire Earth’s greatest organic child, humanity.

Heidegger’s Angst: Runaway Technology

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In his Discourse on Thinking Martin Heidegger foresees a radical future arising out of accelerating technology and innovation:

No one can foresee the radical changes to come. But technological advance will move faster and faster and can never be stopped. In all areas of his existence, man will be encircled ever more tightly by the forces of technology. These forces, which everywhere and every minute claim, enchain, drag along, press and impose upon man under the form of some technical contrivance or other – these forces … have moved long since beyond his will and have outgrown his capacity for decision.(51)1

Yet, it’s what he says about our inability to anticipate that bothers him most. Heidegger would see a time when no one would be able to apply the brakes to this runaway beast: social and technological acceleration (i.e., progress). (52):

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Notes:

Almost every thinker past Heidegger has done much in that regard. Most under the rubric of social accelerationism (Hartmut Rosa), but the tradition from Kojve, Canguillheim, Latour, Deleuze… or especially Virilio, Virno, Steigler, etc. have their eyes on both the naturalist and artificial systems enveloped in the notions of speed and acceleration history. Most on the left have seen it as destructive, while many on the right see it within the collapse of history, etc. Even the recent work of Left Acceleration by Srnicek and Williams could be placed in a natural context as a critique of this darker side of progressive history and the need to overtake it. It’s really the old battle between technological determinism and fatalism played out against the advance of autonomous technology…. yet, in our own time it’s become more the disappearance of natural context – think of Timothy Morton’s Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics; or, Purdy’s After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene; or, The Idea of Wilderness: From Prehistory to the Age of Ecology by Max Oelschlaeger; or, the works of Derrick Jensen: Endgame, Volume 1 and 2: The Problem of Civilization, Resistance. The later two seeing a need to revolt against the system of late capitlism, more in line with a neoluddite view… Benjamin Noys attacks it directly in: Malign Velocities: Accelerationism and Capitalism… Shaviro gives his critique in No Speed Limit: Three Essays on Accelerationism. One I haven’t read is The Great Acceleration: An Environmental History of the Anthropocene Since 1945 by J. R. McNeill, but it looks promising.


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  1. Heidegger, Martin, Discourse on Thinking. Harper Torchbooks (November 19, 1969)

In Search of Perfection – Fantasy or Satire?

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We’ve seen it come and go, this ephemeral quest for Beauty. With the invention of such genome-engineering tools as CRISPR, a technology that could allow researchers to perform microsurgery on genes, precisely and easily changing a DNA sequence at exact locations on a chromosome, we’re seeing the beginnings of a revolution in cosmetic Augmentation before our eyes.

Beyond the medical breakthroughs which are already forecast, one will begin to see those who seek perfection, the self-editing or techno-makeover industry will take the next step in editing out those blemishes and micro-deficiencies, all those disgusting aspects of one’s fleshly existence that have for so long troubled one’s sense of beauty.

CRISPR and the other new tools also give scientists a precise way to delete and edit specific bits of DNA—even by changing a single base pair. This means they can rewrite the human genome at will. Someday vast digital libraries of CRISPRs, each of which targets a different human gene will become marketable. These vast collections, which account for nearly all the human genes, have been made available to other researchers. The libraries promise to speed genome-wide studies of genetics.

Cut and patch technologies will become the stock and trade of a new wave of Augmentation Specialists, equipped with the vast encyclopedia of beatific forms, a typology of Beauty that can compute and edit ones genome in one sitting, the cosmetic augmentation specialists of tomorrow will splice and dice one’s flesh with subtle variations like a musical score played by a Maestro. A Symphony of fleshly delights that will have you looking like your own Barbie Doll in no time.

(I wrote this as a spoof, reflecting on the usual culprits, the panoply of applications to which such technology could be adapted too, since as one scientists stated CRISPR and other technologies “will likely only be limited by our imagination“.)

The whole notion of metamorphosis, transformation, editing out the imperfections in the human genome is based on a typical fallacy that we can edit out the Other. One will imagine a future of clones and typology of advanced sleeves – a sort of immortalist factory model of Sameness. As in Richard K. Morgan’s Takeshi trilogy, where humans can resleeve or change bodies through a process of transplanting etc. Obviously fantasy at our moment, but imaginal projection for those singulatarians who surmise such things.

Already we see CRISPR being used in China for experimental purposes on human embryos. They’ve only used embryos that were to be destroyed so far, but one wonders about rogue governments and black ops projects that might already be developing such augmentation and mutations. What will occur when such editing of the human genome is brought to fruition? When the first experimental embryos are born after such editing procedures?

In an article published in the journal Science, leading biologists warned about the dangers of altering the human germline (meaning permanent changes to the egg, sperm, or embryo that can be passed on to future generations). They note that the “enormous opportunities” of such genetic engineering come with “unknown risks to human health and well-being.”

As Carl Zimmer notes in National Geographic, there were several major problems with the work, including the fact that the CRISPR technique often missed its target, inserting the DNA into the wrong place in the genome. “Such a misfire wouldn’t just fail to fix a disease,” writes Zimmer. “It could create a disease of its own.” He adds that despite this and other mistakes, there was nothing in the researchers’ work that was a “conceptual deal-breaker” for using CRISPR to edit human genes.

read more on the Verge: Scientists in China edit human genome in embryos for the first time