Tattoo Apocalypse

Tattoo’s appeared. Curious he let it go on.
Flesh moving with a serpent’s coils across his abdomen.
The clown’s eye opened on an ancient tower curled round his neck,

Where the monkey man swung upon the vine turning
And turning into a woman’s scream upon his buttocks. 
The story of the world slowly unfolded. The barcodes of a sex toy

Erased the history of the Renaissance. No one knows why
But the island sank, and some surmise it was the bad ink
That dripped into his veins when the open sea of sores popped on his nose.

He offered her a dream voyage into the mystery of his primal rage,
But she knew better than to follow him into that rising sun’s bloody haze.
The world is fading now, turning gray. The prospects of change have changed.

Travel agents have bargained with him for new destinations.
The edgelands of his bony scalp have thickened to the storm of memories now.
Even the arresting officer commented on the weather patterns

Drifting on the sea of his cracked skull. At the funeral the tattoos started fading.
So too did the landscapes of our earthly life. Now a uniform darkness covers all.

©2021 S.C. Hickman

The Toy Philosopher

Wittgenstein’s idea that philosophy is something like a disease and the job of the philosopher is to study philosophy as the physician studies malaria, not to pass it on but rather to cure people of it. —Susan Sontag

The connoisseur of horror realizes that there is nothing to say, nothing to do, nothing to be; knowing that everything that could possibly be thought has already entered that stage of utter obsolescence in which thinking has become a desperate attempt to think about thinking. What happens when there is no longer anything to think, when thought and concept have begun circling in the bowels of philosophical presumption rather than abstraction? Philosophers today bewail the end of philosophy as if it were some grand tradition they must by every means necessary be upheld as the last bastion of sanity. But what if this in itself is already to be outside the very limits of philosophical thinking and thought; a gesture within a gesture demarcating the lines between philosophy proper and its non-philosophical gestures of flight and fear. Has philosophy become a toy in the hands of machinic algorithms; a sort of endless game of accelerating complexity whose only goal is to produce superintelligence devoid of the human factor of irrational monstrousness.

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Matt Cardin: Master of the Fantastic

The Fantastic is one of the most significant genres because it tells us the most about the inner life of the individual and about collectively held symbols. As it relates to our sensibility today, the supernatural element at the heart of these stories always appears freighted with meaning, like the revolt of the unconscious, the repressed, the forgotten, all that is distanced from our rational attention. In this we see the modern dimension of the fantastic, the reason for its triumphant resurgence in our times.

—Italo Calvino, Fantastic Tales

CaptureI just finished Matt Cardin’s new collection To Rouse Leviathan, and I must say it was thoroughly enjoyable in a dreadful way; by that I mean it filled me with that weird and eerie anxiety that I find is the supreme mood of the fantastic. Reading Cardin is like moving toward a visionary moment of clarity and then realizing that one’s eyes are askew: twisted and deformed our eyes are crossed between the inner vision of some vast infernal nightmare land of the impossible, and outward toward the enfolded nightmare of our actual world of loss and pain. Many feel that  yearning and longing for an end to the quest for an answer to life’s meaning; most end up like our current cultural malaise has in a valueless cesspool of non-meaning and nihilism. For Cardin what we’re missing is a spiritual vision, a vision that supports both imagination and the artistic impulse; such is the quest undertaken in every tale in these volumes, a movement toward some indefinable landscape of divine ecstasy or ecstatic horror; or the exposed fragments of some forgotten labyrinth of religious or spiritual dark enlightenment. An enlightenment into horror, where the daemonic splendor of existence which exists just outside the registers of our blinkered and rational visions leads us into a multidimensional realm of our darkest transports; a realm in which our joys and fears come alive and absorb us into that dream of the Outside where paradox, incongruity, and uncertainty unbound exist without end or justification.

If you love the mixture of the sublime and ridiculous that pushes the limits of both modes to their logical conclusions then you’ll love Matt Cardin’s omnibus of all his previous stories. He touches that dark space of our American psyche with its love/hate relations to the religious consciousness. Most of the stories are filled with various troubled misfits and rejects of a religious persuasion whose yearnings for some kind of mutant transformation or transfiguration lead them into the pit of hell or some strange and fantastic infernal paradise.

I was reminded of Thomas Ligotti’s macabre relishing of the grotesque sublime and yearning for ruins, sewers, corruption, and the dark pessimism of annihilation, cannibalism, and extreme surrealism in the mode of Bataille’s notions of the unreal and impossible. All I can say is that each story takes on new aspects of the old tropes of horror fiction and renews them with a refined sensibility and elegance that tempts one to realize Cardin knows the tradition inside/out, and yet is able to let it speak out without a heavy handed touch like so many of the last generations postmodern metafictionists did. This is a self-conscious horror that does not show its hand, but like a great street magician carefully directs your attention away from the center of the magic trick; a trick that allows the reader her own thrill in discovering sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph the elements of a metaphysics that does not hammer you into extinction, but like those old masters of the essay – think of Montaigne – weave both an intelligent story with an essayistic discretion to both entertain and instruct the reader in the dark truths being portrayed.

In the end Cardin’s tales do not so much answer those deepest yearnings of our disquieted souls as challenge us to enter into that strange compact that all authors and readers share: a compact that shifts us into our own creative and imaginative modes of being, awaken in us a psychic need and ontic poverty, leaving us with the dark aura of loss and light of nihil that encloses us in our own nightmare lands of fear and dread. Cardin’s tales lure and goad us onward toward our own transgressive visions and quests, force us to once again acquaint ourselves with the dark tremors just below the submerged threshold of our own fears. And, yet, like all great artists of the fantastic and weird Cardin’s tales leave us spent and vacuous: depleted, destitute and spiritually exhausted within the catastrophic aftermath of his visions forlornness.

His tales are never-ending portals to a sea of strangeness we all feel is submerged in the Real surrounding us on all sides. And if we just knew how to tap into it, gain access to it we would suddenly realize the thing we’ve been missing our whole lives; that impossible object we’ve been seeking to fill that empty place of imaginative need.  These are tales we will repeatedly return to again and again, seeking in them a more in depth connection to that something hiding in plain site, but just barely visible to our skewed vision; for what we all seek in such tales is an ineffable mystery,  a dark presage of all we are and could be if only we might open ourselves to the nightmare worlds we deserve.

You can find Matt Cardin on his blog Teeming Brain  and buy his new collection here!

Weird Fiction and Pessimism

Why Weird Fiction is a better vehicle for Pessimism than philosophy:

Weird fiction often spurns more rationalistic and normalized narrative types of creation and fulfillment, seizing instead on the nonrational structures of dreams and hallucinations, exploiting the episodic rather than the logically continuous. Weird fiction overcomes isolation because its pessimism is hazy, inducing the reader into a dreamlike state where reality and narrative blur and pessimism slowly intrudes into the edges of consciousness. As Ligotti says, “Everything that happens in every story ever written is merely an event in someone’s imagination—exactly as are dreams, which take place on their own little plane of unreality, a realm of nowhere in which outside and inside are of equivalent ontological status.”1 The notion here is in some ways similar to the old post-structuralist “nothing outside the text,” but with one caveat, for Ligotti the polarities of unreal/real have exchanged places and the inside is outside and it is all nightmare. The point here is like the ancient Gnostics the world is malevolent through and through, and there is no escape from this nightmare land. Weird fiction in portraying this nightmare uses a rhetorical strategy that softens the blow of extreme pessimism allowing the reader to feel the subtle truth of our horrific situation without being too explicit, entertaining the reader while instructing her in the dark ways of our ontological status.

  1. Carl T. Ford, “Interview with Thomas Ligotti,” in Born to Fear: Interviews with Thomas Ligotti, ed. Matt Cardin (Burton, Mich.: Subterranean Press, 2014), 22.

The Truth of Horror

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

—Thomas Ligotti, The Consolations of Horror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Modern † Gothic”: Farah Rose Smith’s Anonyma

I’m reading Farah Rose Smith’s Anonyma which is deliciously decadent, modern, and gothic; a work that situates itself in the tradition of the dark fantastic. I’ve barely scratched the surface of this short novella but am already impressed by its ability to hint at mysteries and undertones just off-stage waiting to erupt from the darkness. In it we are introduced to a young successful architect, Nicholas Georg Bezalel, whose art and life are fused in a sensibility of what he’ll term “Modern † Gothic”:

“Modern † Gothic starts with a feeling,” Bezalel says. “To describe those initial emotions with words would make no sense logically, in the grand scheme of allowing you in on the process. The act of creation, of production, of endurance. These are all my secrets, you see. What I can say is that the style has permanence. It is art, but more importantly, Modern † Gothic is a way of life.”1

In the opening scene an interview with unknown parties is taking place in which the various aspects of his past and present commingle revealing both the source and transgressive splendor of his ongoing project, Noctuary. The name “Noctuary” already aligned my thought to Thomas Ligotti whose own collection of weird tales would encompass a discourse on blackness and the aesthetics of shadow, goth, and the weird:

“No one needs to be told about what is weird. It is something that becomes known in the early stages of every life. With the very first nightmare or a childhood bout of fever, an initiation takes place into a universal, and at the same time very secret society. Membership in this society is renewed by a lifelong series of encounters with the weird, which may assume a variety of forms and wear many faces. Some of these forms and faces are private to a certain person, while others are recognized by practically everybody, whether or not they will admit it. But they are always there, waiting to be recalled in those special moments that are all its own.”2

What we discover in Farah’s novella is the mystery of architecture itself, a dreamscape of unreality that exposes a ritualized inscape into unfathomable chambers of a bleak cosmos. Bezalel himself is reticent about both his ongoing project and of a recent exhibit that we are lead to believe shocked both critics and public alike, a scandalous affair that brought the shrill critical gaze of certain extreme feminist enclaves to bare on his life and art. As he comments:

“There is a point at which one must separate the art and the artist. There is an intrinsic link, of course. But there is less of me in those images than there is of what I was trying to evoke. They misunderstand me” When asked about the process of creating the infamous images, he becomes brusk. “Let us move on.”

Like many eccentric and decadent artists Bezalel seems both piqued and tormented by the public and critics reception of his work and yet nonplussed he seems unsure of himself and is quiet and reserve about those who do not understand his dark vision. As he’ll suggest his conceptual relations with architecture began as a child in a dream; that, in fact, the very project he is working on now began as a dream. Of Noctuary itself he says: “I saw the building itself in a childhood dream, not long before the death of my parents.” A sense of darkness, death, and the symbolic relations between the two and this dream castle have drawn him toward his self-described combination of the “Modern † Gothic” described already. Yet, like many artists his work would not have been possible without an apprenticeship with a certain mentor.

Adopted at a young age he was raised by a Banker family in Berlin, a typical bourgeois nexus of money, wealth, and extravagance. A mother given to melancholy, which he presumes is due to the Father’s incessant pretensions to playboy of the western world affectations. Bezalel himself seems to have had the run of the house, and spent most of his young life reading and getting acquainted with classics in the well-stocked family Library. After the death of his adopted family he moves to New York, studies architecture because of the connection to his childhood dream, but is unimpressed by the current regard of such moderns as Frank Loyd Wright. After graduation he is tempted to join two different firms but decides instead to return to Germany to reacquaint himself with his roots.

It is in Germany that he discovers a life-long passion for the the idol-mentor, G.E. G.E. Von Aurovitch. Describing his current project as “dripping with the lifeblood (or deathblood) of Von Aurovitch”. He describes the artistic vision behind it, which is a mixture of Decadence and Symbolist motifs, he tells the interviewers:

Aurovitch. Here, in architecture, in interior design, in natural installations, in fashion, either directly or indirectly, I was able to mold and maneuver with a specific energy that, in a way, bridged the gap between the Decadent and the Symbolic by getting to the philosophical nerve of coexisting opposites, and honored those I drew from. But I still think it isn’t representative of any one movement from the past. It is, quite simply, Modern † Gothic. It is its own movement, its own improvement, its own reality.”

After several successful installations he moved back to New York where he met his current fiance, supermodel Coreya Witciewicz. She works with him in the Noctuary, and appears to be both his assistant and curator of affairs. So far in the story we have not heard much else about her or her life with the architect, and I’ll not reveal much more of the tale.

We understand his immediate project is an adaptation of “Von Aurovitch’s obscure fantasy play, The Curse of Ariette, which will be performed in The Noctuary’s own underground theatre, Antangelus”. Telling the interviewers that for him – “Every project is a vanity project.” – we’re told by them that the architectural wonder they are in “doesn’t seem to fit into that category upon first observation, but with a careful look into Bezalel’s literary tastes, one can begin to put together a theory which suggests that he is bringing the objects of fantasy worlds– worlds of his own, and others– into reality.”

This whole opening scene sets the stage for the actual tale to come, it’s as if Farah was writing an essay much in the tradition of Borges of an imaginary artist for the sheer pleasure of revealing the background and details of a new aesthetic art and lifestyle. One thinks back to the work that spawned the Decadent and Symbolist movements Joris-Karl Huysmans, A Rebours (Against Nature), which more than a narrative was a series of lengthy essays on the various aspects of the decadent worldview. Much the same we are given in this opening chapter the sense and sensibility of the worldview of the “Modern † Gothic”. As we discover at the end of the chapter this new worldview is connected to the traumas of Bezalel’s childhood:

“The observation most people make about Modern † Gothic is that it has led them to find a balance between cognitive richness and materialistic extravagance. Bezalel acknowledges how the traumas of his youth led him to a new and comprehensive philosophy that nurtured this concept. “The instability, the darkness was unpleasant, but the only constant in my life. In it I began to find comfort, familiarity. The inverse of the uncanny. I wanted other people to understand that they could make peace with their demons. Find solace in the unfamiliar. Work with the darkness.””

What awaits us as the architectural wonder of Noctuary is completed, and the dark enactments within its theater of cruelty unleashes its strange powers of darkness is left to the reader to find out, all I’ve done is tempt you to enter the dark chambers of Farah Rose Smith’s Anonyma to find out.

You can discover Farah’s work on
Meet her on FB – here!

  1. Smith, Farah Rose. Anonyma.; First Edition edition (November 30, 2018)
  2. Ligotti, Thomas. Noctuary. Il Saggiatore (October 12, 2017)

Short History of Necropunk Philosophy

A Short History of Necropunk Philosophy

Decided to move this from my last post on my work-in-progress Savage Nights.

Thinking of Capitalism as a necropunk invasion from the future, driven by death-drives, cannibalizing through crisis, collapse, catastrophe is at the core of what Bataille and Nick Land after him would term “base materialism” converging on the closure of history into a posthuman future. Or, what my friend Scott Bakker would term the ‘crash space’ of the Semantic Apocalypse.

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Chronicles of the High Inquest by S.P. Somtow

Working a new near future Grunge or Necropunk Noir Science Fiction I began collecting information regarding past uses of this notion. For me the master stylist of this genre remains Richard Calder with his Dead Girls/Dead Boys/Dead Things trilogy. (see review) He lived in Thailand 1990-1996 and later in the Philippines until returning to London in the first years of this century – who began publishing sf with “Toxine” in Interzone. Yet, there is also S.P. Somtow whose works may or may not have influenced Calder’s fusion of decodence, decadence, and necrotical politics and socio-cultural inflections, yet have at their bases the necropunk style and philosophy that seems to infect, contaminate, and corrupt this genre through its hyperstitional, memetic, and egregore enactments and disclosures of the was in which the future infects and bleeds into the past through slippage.

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Wassily Kandinsky & Michel Henry’s Seeing the Invisible

Abstraction is nothing, rigorously pursued. Arithmetical zero is its sign. To perceive, think, and do nothing. To be nothing. Zero alone – in its infinite formulations – attains such exemption from indignity.
…….– Nick Land, Abstract Manifesto

Kandinsky is the inventor of abstract painting, the one who sought to overturn the traditional conceptions of aesthetic representation and to define a new era in this domain—the era of modernity.
……..– Michel Henry, Seeing the Invisible

Wassily Kandinsky was born on December, 16th (4), 1866 in Moscow, in a well-to-do family of a businessman in a good cultural environment. In 1871 the family moved to Odessa where his father ran his tea factory. There, alongside with attending a classical gymnasium (grammar school), the boy learned to play the piano and the cello and took to drawing with a coach. “I remember that drawing and a little bit later painting lifted me out of the reality”, he wrote later. In Kandinsky’s works of his childhood period we can find rather specific color combinations, which he explained by the fact that “each color lives by its mysterious life”.

In Seeing the Invisible, we discover an admirer of Kandinsky in the philosopher Michel Henry, whose central thesis is that Kandinsky’s abstraction is more than just a particular movement in painting; instead, it reveals the deep truth of all art. All art is really ‘abstract’, which is to say that it is freed from any adherence to the external, visible world.1 As Davidson remarks in the preface to Henry’s work on Kandinsky, abstract art overturns our conceptions about painting and art in general, because it seeks to express the internal aspect of phenomena, in other words, to paint the invisible. Freed from all mimetic activities, its central preoccupation is the question of how to paint the invisible, instead. That is, how can the visible artistic means of painting—graphic forms and colours—be used to depict a wholly different, invisible reality? (SI, p. x)

This sense of “painting the invisible” of seeking to make visible the invisible non-being within the folds of the phenomenal object as if to reveal the secret life or energetic chaos just below the surface qualia of the sensual profiles that flit across our eyes like so many dust particles on a bright morning is to realize that abstract art as Land remarks “knows nothing, it can turn blindness to a vision of the abyss. It evokes an apprehension of non-apprehension, or a perception of the imperceptible as such”.2

Kandinsky Henry tells us provided an explicit theory of abstract painting, exposing its principles with the utmost precision and clarity. So, the painted work is accompanied with a group of texts that at the same time clarify his work and make Kandinsky one of the main theorists of art. (SI, p. 2) He’ll remark on such minds as Kandinsky’s that like others he sought from art is knowledge, a true or ‘metaphysical’ knowledge, capable of reaching beyond the external appearance of phenomena in order to lead us to their intimate essence.” (SI, p. 3) He’ll ask: How can painting bring about this ultimate revelation? What… is the nature of Being implied by painting and to which painting gives us access, making us contemporary with the Absolute and, in a certain sense, staking a claim to it?

For Kandinsky in his theoretical writings the terms Internal/External take on the basic elements of two modes of appearing that operate across all aspects of existence. As Henry will describe it the External rather than referring explicitly to something that is external tells us instead the way in which this something manifests itself to us. He’ll explicate it this way:

This manner consists in the fact of being placed in the exterior and being positioned before our regard, such that it is the fact of being placed before and in the exterior. Here exteriority as such constitutes manifestation and visibility. The exteriority in which every thing and every content becomes visible, becomes a phenomenon in terms of an external phenomenon, is the exteriority of the world. The world is the visible world, because the world means exteriority and because exteriority constitutes visibility. An external phenomenon is never seen or known in virtue of its particular properties—because it is big or small, structured or formless, etc.—but because it is external and for this reason alone. Since belonging to the ‘world’ signifies exteriority, it is manifested in exteriority and exteriority is equivalent to manifestation. Kandinsky says that the ‘way’ is not bound up with the phenomenon at random, because it is in this way—exteriority—that it can become a phenomenon and can be shown. (SI, p. 6)

On the other hand is the Internal mode of appearing which is, in some sense, a “more ancient and more radical way of being given. Like the External, the Internal does not refer to some particular thing that would be revealed inwardly; instead, interiority refers to the very fact of being revealed in this way. What does this most original ‘way’ of being given and ‘being lived’ consist of? This is an inescapable question, even though ‘being lived internally’—the ‘way’ on which Kandinsky will construct his aesthetics—cannot be stated simplistically. It would then fall prey to a critique seeking to deny its existence—‘Nothing
of this sort exists!’, ‘Interiority is a myth!’ In other words, the External provided proof of itself and this proof, it seems, is itself. … The Internal will never be shown in this way, as something which can be seen because it is right there in front of us. It is the invisible—that which can never be seen in a world or in the manner of a world. There is no ‘inner world’. The Internal is not the fold turned inward of a first Outside. In the Internal, there is no putting at a distance and no putting into a world—there is nothing external, because there is no exteriority in it. (SI, pp. 6-7)

The important part here is the statement that the Internal is “invisible—that which can never be seen in a world or in the manner of a world,” there “is no putting at a distance and no putting into a world—there is nothing external, because there is no exteriority in it”.  Henry will then puzzle out the question:  In what way, then, can the Internal be revealed, if it is not in or as a world? Explicating it this way:

It is revealed in the way of life. Life feels and experiences itself immediately such that it coincides with itself at each point of its being. Wholly immersed in itself and drawn from this feeling of itself, it is carried out as a pathos. Prior to and independently from every regard, affectivity is the ‘way’ in which the Internal is revealed to itself, in which life lives itself, in which the impression immediately imprints itself and in which feeling affects itself. (SI, p. 7)

So for Henry this inner Internal revealing of appearance is not based on sight or seeing, but rather comes by way of the affective relations internal to the object-object relations as unfolded and carried across the breach of things by “pathos”.

I’ll not say more on this specific theme, and cut this meditation short. Yet, will leave on remaining quote from this interesting work by Michel Henry:

Being is thus not a univocal concept. Two dimensions traverse it and tear
apart its primal unity (to the extent that it would ever have one):

1. The dimension of the visible where things are given to us in the light
of the world and are lived by us as external phenomena, and
2. The dimension of the invisible where, without the light of this world,
even before the emergence of this horizon of exteriority that puts
every thing at a distance from ourselves and offers it as an object to us
(object means ‘what is placed before us’), life has already taken hold
of its own being and has embraced itself in the pathos of this interior
and immediate experience of itself that makes it alive. (SI, p. 7)

This sense of an antagonistic and contradictory universe ripped and torn by catastrophic forces of two dimensions of Being is striking. The realm of light and seeing, the External of the phenomenal realm of sensuous apprehension; and, the other, the Internal, the invisible, unseen and vanishing or withdrawing of things from the “light of the world,” where life embraces “itself in the pathos” of an interior and immediate volatility seems to align well with many current speculative philosophies.

I’ll come back to this in the future…


  1. Michel, Henry. Seeing the Invisible. Trans. Scott Davidson (Continuum, 2005)
  2. Land, Nick (2015-12-16). Chasm (Kindle Location 8). Time Spiral Press. Kindle Edition.