The Uncanniness of Puppets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Why horror?

Why horror?

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

Subtraction

If only it were that easy.
The slow erasure, subtraction:
Layer by layer, the onion of the cosmos
Peeled back from skin to kernel,
Till all that is left is a knot of nothingness.

But would this truly get at that inhuman core?

What if we know too much,
The very horror of consciousness itself
Being the thing that we cannot subtract, only minimize;
Isolating those delicate illusions that keep us confined,
Anchoring us to those well used tropes, fictions;
Distracting us with their promise of entertainment;
Till we carefully peruse the latest seduction
As if it were a sublime necessity, a calculated effort.

Would we be able to subtract ourselves from such blind worlds?

If I could subtract this very sentence, this thought, this life…
What would that accomplish? Am I a tissue of light,
Words on the screen of night; syllables of some forgotten language of the Mind?


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2019 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Because They Can: The Horror of the Sciences

Kristine Ong Muslim in her short story collection Age of Blight has a grouping of tales dealing with both academia and the sciences in which the blind and detached use of animals all in the name of discovery (i.e., seeking to understand various medical, psychological, and other aspects of the human through experimentation with animals, etc.) leads to forms of inhumane torture. Not only that but many of the experimenters in their supposed objective distancing and non-emotional interventions become de-sensitized to the point of sociopathic and psychopathic degradation. In one of her tales she describes a particular scientist Harry F. Harlow (who actually existed!), who (let me quote at length from WIKI):

Harlow’s experiments were controversial; they included creating inanimate surrogate mothers for the rhesus infants from wire and wool. Each infant became attached to its particular mother, recognizing its unique face and preferring it above others. Harlow next chose to investigate if the infants had a preference for bare-wire mothers or cloth-covered mothers. For this experiment, he presented the infants with a clothed “mother” and a wire “mother” under two conditions. In one situation, the wire mother held a bottle with food, and the cloth mother held no food. In the other situation, the cloth mother held the bottle, and the wire mother had nothing. Also later in his career, he cultivated infant monkeys in isolation chambers for up to 24 months, from which they emerged intensely disturbed. Some researchers cite the experiments as a factor in the rise of the animal liberation movement in the United States.

After describing some of the horrific experiments performed on rhesus monkeys the narrator says,

Sometimes, when I lay awake at night watching the motion-regulated light fixtures strewn across the ceiling, I imagine how it must have been for Harry’s monkeys. I am shaped into what is supposed to be a cold and unfeeling contraption, but I realized a long time ago that I have limits: I cannot stomach torture. Torture, for me, has always been the resort of the weak, the inept, the ill-equipped. What torturers do not understand, they simplify by disassembling, by destroying the very essence and mystery of what they are trying to comprehend. What they covet, they steal and tinker with until it bores them or they discover that the tampered thing cannot be put back together again. And what they cannot subjugate, they maim— for no other reason but because they can.1

To have that kind of power bestowed on a person by an institution, academic or governmental is to revert to those impersonal and sadistic chambers of horror wherein humans became both victims and experiments in the Nazi-Fascist concentration camps (i.e., Josef Mengele). The fine line between allowing animals to be abused by such men, and that of humans is not one of morality, but of the very truth of science and politics. There are those among us that have such tendencies, and use them to hide their perverted proclivities behind the mask of war, medicine, and politics. In an age of authoritarian control are we not ripe for such invasive creatures to move toward such ends in a time when posthuman, transhuman, and inhuman philosophies open the doors to such strange worlds?


  1. Kristine Ong Muslim. Age of Blight. The Unnamed Press (January 12, 2016).

The Horror of the Real: Against Alienation?

 

Rereading Steven Shaviro’s excellent essay on Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian again “The Very Life of the Darkness”: A Reading of Blood Meridian. In it he makes an acute observation:

“There is only war, there is only the dance. Exile is not deprivation or loss, but our primordial and positive condition. For there can be no alienation when there is no originary state for us to be alienated from.”

I agree. In a world such as ours based as it is now in a secular and nihilistic order, there is no such thing as alienation – a notion that goes against almost all of the critiques of the Left or Right, socialist atheist or reactionary religious. Once you have eliminated transcendence, eliminated the Torah, Bible, or Koran; or any of the pagan worlds from your world view there can be no alienation in the sense that there is no paradise, no garden of Eden, no original pristine realm or even fall from such a realm… there is nothing, absolutely nothing to which a nostalgic return could be offered. This is why so much horror that offers any form of redemptive vision to me is false, because in a world such as ours where there is no transcendence, only absolute immanence prevails; there is no escape, no recourse, no original innocence from which we have fallen, etc.; there is only an absolute accident. Yet, to admit that there is no return, no redemptive vision to which we can become disalienated through some original relation is not in itself a bad thing, instead it opens us up to the unknown possibility of our own absolute freedom which no longer grounded in some past event. Instead we are now alone, without recourse other than the imaginative and creative powers of our own making. That means it’s up to us to change, to formulate a future worth living in rather than seeking some redemptive power out of some mythical past of our origins.

We are the products not of God(s) or any other imagined or invented creative force, will, intellect, spirit, Geist, etc.. No. We are like everything else in this depleted cosmos of absolute indifference mere accidents of time, nothing more. So if one is not alienated from some mythic paradise of origins what recourse do we have? None. Absolutely none. All our ideological constructs based on such alienation are already misleading and false from get go. So that most of our politics is based on sheer theological fantasies, whether of secular or religious varieties. Same with fictions: those purporting to offer some salvational vision of redemption for our future are both erroneous and toxic in that they offer hope where there is none. Sadly we seem bent on defying this truth and continuing with our lust for transcendence and salvatory visions. Instead we should begin seeing ourselves as we are: bound within a cosmic indifference. From that one truth we can then begin to imagine ourselves differently as part of this cosmos rather than creatures whose existence must be elsewhere. If we are children of indifference then we are free to absorb that truth and move on, which means we do not ourselves need to be indifferent. We might be something that is totally unnatural to the very system of indifference around us; it’s knowing this that shocks us and causes us to invent solutions for the impossible thing we are in an indifferent cosmos. We are as far as we know the only thing that is not indifferent. We have developed the ability to care, that makes us different from the surrounding indifference within which we find ourselves. As Shaviro will remind us:

Blood Meridian is not a salvation narrative; we can be rescued neither by faith nor by works nor by grace. It is useless to look for ulterior, redemptive meanings, useless even to posit the irredeemable gratuitousness of our abandonment in the form of some existential category such as Heideggerian “thrownness” (Geworfenheit). We have not fallen here or been ”thrown” here, for we have always been here, and always will be. Only the judge seems descended from another world (125). (PM)

 


  1.  Luce, Dianne C.. Perspectives on McCarthy. University Press of Mississippi; Revised edition (January 1, 1999) PM

Horror Literature as Extreme Pessimism

Mainländer sees this process of cosmic death taking place all throughout nature, in both the organic and inorganic realms, and he goes into great detail about how it takes place everywhere in the universe.

—Frederick C. Beiser,  Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900

The new genre of supernatural horror fiction had its roots in Gothic literature, but it evolved as a specific response to the pressures of modernity. Suddenly it was essential to ask new questions about human nature and our place in the world. Horror fiction was both a wake for Christianity and an attempt to generate new myths—or a new kind of imagination—that could deal with the new realities.

—Joel Lane,  This Spectacular Darkness: Critical Essays

In many ways pessimism was a reaction to the influx of texts on Buddhism, Gnosticism, and Egyptian metaphysics during the early Nineteenth Century. This Western reception of these notions would spawn a typical misreading of these ancient peoples thoughts, but one that would invent a new secular negativity against all the Idealist and Socialist Utopianism that were part of the mainstream culture of the era.

For the past year I’ve plunged through most of the works on pessimism I could find, along with original source material (Philosophers and Literary forms, etc.), and secondary works during that era and through decadence, modernism, post-modernism, and our own era of speculative philosophies.

Continue reading

Matthew M. Bartlett: The Stay-Awake Men – A Review

I feel like that skeptical American journalist, Jack Walser, backstage at the Alhambra Music Hall in Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus as I begin contemplating just what is going on. Reading the works of Matthew M. Bartlett is like entering a bloody chamber full of Dr. Hoffman’s desiring machines wondering if I’ll survive the night. I haven’t fallen into such a grotesquerie of myth, legend, and horror in years. It’s as if Lucien, Petronius, and Rabelais had wandered into 21st Century and unloaded all their Menippean charms and sigils of laughter and horror into the cracked brain of a New England cat lover.  As I read Gateways to Abomination and Creepy Waves all I could hear blaring out of my radio was the macabre ramblings of the Leech on steroids. It’s as if Matthew had unleashed a curse upon my poor music box as it screeched, hollered, fornicated, spouted strange fragments of some disjointed and incongruous tales of the back woods of those northern climes where Matthew’s agglomeration of misfits live in a world all their own. And, if that wasn’t enough I had to download his latest effort The Stay-Awake Men & Other Unstable Entities into my poor innocent (or, not so innocent?) brain. Dang! Why’d I do that for? Well let me tell you…

Let’s begin our journey with the Carnomancer, or the meat manager’s prerogative…

Right off the bat I meet some lumpy old fart of a front store manager named LaFogg dreamin’ about young flesh and his dead wife, KaraLee. An ugly s.o.b. in “his fifties, a mere half-inch taller than very short, with a protruding belly and a bald spot that stayed resolutely pink no matter the season: not exactly the kind of man the cashier would ever look at with anything other than indifference…”.1 A typical over-the-hill loser if you ask me, but who’s asking? As this guy is day-dreaming about a young lass who wouldn’t ever give him the time of day, much less a smile, we’re thrown into a maelstrom of darkness when the meat manager goes berserk in the back of the store. What LaFogg finds when he arrives at the scene of commotion is one crazed creature (the meat manager):

With both hands he was lustily prying the cellophane from a huge hunk of bottom-round roast. Scattered across the tan and white tiled floor were torn shards of Styrofoam, sheets of pink-stained padding, and bunched remnants of cellophane, bubbled pink with blood. (SAOUE)

Needless to say the cops soon hall him out, but not before he let’s LaFogg and anyone who will listen, know, that he is looking for something: “It’s in here somewhere,” he said. “It has to be in here somewhere.” (SAOUE) We’re never told just what it is he’s missing, but we do know that it’s something that’s not going to portend anything good.

I’ll admit every story in this book is like that, you are suddenly thrown a curve, not knowing just what’s going to happen next, but you know if you stay around long enough it’s not going to turn out for the best. It never does.

SPETTRINI – This is my favorite tale, and from what I understand it was made into a chapbook before it showed up here in this line up of horror. The things Matthew does to language is a downright pleasure. His ability to bring a character to life, along with the atmospheric strangeness of the landscapes is just plain eerie. In this tale we discover an old Mesmerist and Magician losing his grip on the trade, a man who as a child saw a poster of the great Spettrini:

Greyson had become interested in magic not because of having seen a performance nor perused a book, but because of a poster. In a glass display adjacent to the door of the Civic Hall, dramatically lit from below, the illustration depicted a long-limbed Spettrini on a field of purple, a gothic iron fence with intertwined skulls and snakes in the foreground and tilting and split gravestones behind him. He was dressed like a vampire, in a tuxedo with a black and red cape, his fingers bent, frozen in mid-gesticulation, his nails black and long. Between his hands a bat hovered upside down in streams of psychic energy, drawn by the artist as one might sketch a range of hillocks. One thin eyebrow was arched and his hair, black as an oil slick on a moonless night, was combed back and plastered flat to his cranium. His mustache was waxed and stuck out from the sides of his face like pipe cleaners. The very words on the poster seized Greyson’s imagination. Enchantments. Levitation. Necromancy. Resurrection. Its purpose was to advertise Spettrini’s upcoming performance…

The young boy becomes a young man and enters into an apprenticeship of sorts with this famed magician, and the tale spins out the dark contours of his mentorship, and leads him to seek out the darkest secrets of his mentors world…

FOLLOWING YOU HOME – In this tale we meet a young man named Merrill, a loner and beleaguered conversationalist, invited to the yearly Halloween Office Party at a private home where he gets into a confrontation with a more intellectual co-worker and decides to escape the party as quickly as possible. On his way home he confronts something that should not be…

NO ABIDING PLACE ON EARTH – In this tale a Father and Daughter are confronted by entities unknown described as “some kind of strange owl, plucked bare. Pallid, knobby breast; flimsy, webbed wings dangling from twig-like arms, it flew only with a great deal of exertion. …  Their heads resembled those of elderly men, wispy white hair, wizened, slack mouths curtained with pink, blistered dewlaps. One turned its hooded, sagging eye in his direction. Then the others did the same. They coughed and wheezed and began flapping their sad wings as if to launch. It sounded like the smacking of slackened cheeks when someone rapidly shakes his head back and forth.”

KUKLALAR – A tale of corporate malfeasance, when middle-management is replaced by wooden puppets of a very special type; and what tasks they assign, and the strange twists and turns of their short happy lives turned nightmare …

“The figure was made entirely of painted and lacquered wood, down to the brown business suit, white Arrow shirt, and red necktie. Its hair was painted brown with thin grooves carved in to simulate texture, parted on the right. Its chin was on its chest. It landed on its feet, knees bending slightly, and the spotlight swooped down to frame the scene. The Kuklala crouched like a ballerina, knees apart, head down, one wooden hand splayed on the carpet.”

THE STAY-AWAKE MEN – In this tale an old DJ is offered a position of a lifetime if he will only follow instructions, come to an interview in a shady part of town, watch a movie, and discover just what it means to give the performance of his disk jockey life…

THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD – A sad tale of endings and beginnings, of fathers and daughters, of mutation, change, and apocalypses…

What one senses throughout these tales is not the macabre and grotesque details, nor the linguistic prowess of Matthew’s subtle and picaresque metaphors, hyperboles; and contradictions, incongruities, and deformations; rather it’s this all-pervading melancholy and sadness just under the surface of all that gritty glitz. Each of the main characters in these tales suffers a dark apprehension of reality in ways that not only break them but awaken in them a sense of that fatal accord that warps and corrupts us all. Underlying this collection is a sense of the utter futility of things; and, yet, it’s more than that: there is a sense that even in a dilapidated and ruinous universe of decay and entropy a person can discover in the underworld’s of a dark grotesquerie an enchantment and alluring magic; a secret power within things that both fascinates and repulses: an amazing portal into the unknown that surrounds us and permeates every cell in our body. To be lured in by these tales is to fall victim not to the malevolent heart of horror, but to experience the ecstatic madness we all crave but are want to acknowledge.


Visit Matthew M. Bartlett at his site: http://www.matthewmbartlett.com/
And, by all means, pick up his works: here!
Especially his latest work: The Stay-Awake Men & Other Unstable Entities


  1. Bartlett, Matthew M.. The Stay-Awake Men & Other Unstable Entities. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (June 16, 2018) SAOUE

 

The Horned One’s Dilemma

And why wander in these labyrinths? Once more, for aesthetic reasons; because this present infinity, these “vertiginous symmetries,” have their tragic beauty.
—Jorge Luis Borges

They were shining a light on my horns when I unscrewed one and handed it to the hostess. Now my head was tilting to the left, which seemed appropriate under the circumstances. The hostess smiled, believing my weaponized horn was now in safekeeping as she locked it up in the festival’s safe. She pointed to the banquet tables and beckoned me to enjoy myself. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy.

The unrest at the border to the labyrinth had been building for some time now. I’d tried everything to defuse the situation, but things had escalated out of control as certain bigoted and cowardly servants of the Leader had taken things into their own hands and murdered many of my innocent brethren, sisters, and their children. No one was safe anymore. The sociopathy of the Leader’s servants had forced us to retreat behind our great walls. Something had to be done, and that duty fell squarely on my shoulders. Sadly.

Ever since the migrations began the Leader had enforced stringent controls along the perimeter of the Labyrinth. No one in, no one out. His policy was inescapable. Those caught trying to cross the demarcation zone were locked up in steel pens like animals. This pained me immensely, but what was I to do? I called a counsel of the elders, and we discussed the issue but were unable to come to any sense of resolution concerning the matter. Broadcasts were sent out condemning the Leader for his strong man actions, we bellowed our complaints from the high walls across the dark hinterlands of the Leader’s country to no avail. We were alone; isolated. So we sent our Ambassador to convene with the Leader, giving him our terms. The Leader returned our Ambassador: dead. The counsel realized we had no recourse left, so they sent for the Leader to meet on neutral grounds in the midst of the Festival of Oryk.

§

As the Leader of this mad country moved silently through the throng toward the podium with his bodyguards I kept thinking of the bull run in Gazmplona. My one remaining horn seemed to realize the gravity of the situation as I loped slowly and methodically into the crowd gathering around the clown at the center of this controversy. Then I realized I was not alone as I saw my brothers, one-horned and primed, moving toward the laughing jackal on his podium; their horns rising against the bright halo of the mid-day sun like knives in a dream of revenge.

As I reached the inner circle of the festivities I let out a deep bellow; the resonance of its dark import echoing against the stone walls of the labyrinth. The laughter of my brothers followed suit, while the clattering of our hooves on the cobbled pathways, and the broken curvature of our splayed horns ringing out as we clashed with the Leader’s bodyguards, brought fear to the smirking clown and his entourage. Pacing round and round the podium like a herd of angered beasts we shouted out our complaints till the walls of the gray hollows began falling inward, and the crowd dispersed to the four corners of the maze. We stood there in the midst of the rubble and ruins like minions of some blasted daemon, our bellowing laughter following the Leader and his entourage into the cold gray night of the labyrinth.

We knew things would never be the same…

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2019

The Eruption of Chaos: Horror Literature as an Anaretic Inferno

Most horror, whether it’s real or fictitious, literary or cinematic, deals with the eruption of chaos into human existence…

—Clive Barker, Where Nightmares Come From

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 where identities  do not exist or only barely so—double, fuzzy, heterogeneous, animal, metamorphosed, altered, abject.

—Julia Kristeva, The Powers of Horror

But what is chaos? Have we even begun to discern this uncanny guest in our midst, tempted it to reveal its cruel art? “Above all else, chaotic textuality must affirm conflict as an indispensable component of its endeavor; it must not only accept and brave the emergence of conflict but also actively pursue a new definition of creative violence. Indeed, it must even go so far as to strive toward the actualization of a will to cruelty; it must violate and overturn, tear and disfigure the cosmos of the text without judgment, without mercy, vowed only to the unrelenting and all-consuming practice of the brutal.”1 Schopenhauer believed that at the heart of the cosmos was a “will to live”; Nietzsche, a “will to power”. Others have like the pessimist Philipp Mainländer – the pseudonym of Philip Batz, believed that the universe was a mere device for God’s own suicide, and that we were his chosen vehicles to carry out the dire process given within us a “will to death and suicide”.2 Antonin Artaud would develop an art of cruelty, whose aim was to extend consciousness into realms previously considered unknowable, such as death and our primal origins. Into the treacherous regions of drugs and magic. He believed liberation of the subconscious and full realization of the nature of cruelty would enable us to know ourselves. This self-knowledge was to produce a revolution in thought, because its liberating effect was not to be restricted to the arts but must embrace everything.3 As one essayist states it:

What Artaud primarily means by cruelty is “rigor, implacable intention and decision, irreversible and absolute determination.” Such determination is in service of a “blind appetite for life capable of overriding everything” in its aim to wake people up—jolt them out of complacency—and put them in touch with vital forces of creativity that cannot but upend settled patterns of thought and conduct.4

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The Evil Eye: On Apotropaic Horror

There is much to learn, boy. There are places other than here, and limits far beyond what anyone has even considered, nor dreamed of exploring.

—Matthew Bartlett,  The Stay-Awake Men & Other Unstable Entities

In many ways modern horror fiction serves as an apotropaic charm to ward off the dark forces lurking both in the imagination and the world about us. Human imagination and the artistic impulse have from the beginning sought to control the deep fears and terrors of the unknown surrounding humans on all sides. From the cave paintings of Lascaux to the most daemonic art of the 21st Century the ability to visualize and capture the powers of darkness in an image thereby dispersing and warding off their destructive powers has been central to both painting and literary horror.

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Anxiety, Disgust: The Sublime and Counter-Sublime of Ecstasy and Horror

Anxiety is an affective state and as such can, of course, only be felt by the ego. The id cannot have anxiety as the ego can; for it is not an organization and cannot make a judgement about situations of danger. On the other hand it very often happens that processes take place or begin to take place in the id which cause the ego to produce anxiety. Indeed, it is probable that the earliest repressions as well as most of the later ones are motivated by an ego-anxiety of this sort in regard to particular processes in the id. (Freud- The Complete Works)

Freud’s mythology of the inner workings of the psyche still fascinates, even if they were his own fictions of the mind just like Kant’s fictions and categories. Humans love to invent the fictive elements of what they do not comprehend, and then impose those fictions as “truth”. Religion did it before analytical psychology, just like in our current age we are inventing the neurosciences as the new truth of the psyche. Fictions supersede fictions from age to age under the critical gaze, because scholars cannot be satisfied with the previous generations fictive truths.

If one reads Freud as literature rather than psychology one can still gain insights, since his own work was an outgrowth of late decadent romanticism. The psyche as horror story, full of anxieties and defenses against the all powerful id (Outside). Sometimes one has to be inventive in one’s reading to develop theories of the Sublime and Counter-Sublime. The sublime begins in a primal repression and defense against a threat to the ego-self, one that would if known obliterate and annihilate it beyond recall. We see that in Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy where he traces this whole pessimistic history of the ego’s defensive measures against the truth into its cultural and religious determinations. Our need for mastery and self-divination and identity spawned the whole Romantic movement in poetry and literature that began during the Renaissance with the figure of the Magus and would culminate in the master-slave delusions of Hegel.

What I love about Bataille is that he would be one of the first to undermine this whole tradition with his dark surrealism and base materialism of decay, destruction, and annihilation of the ego-identity. Others would follow…

The cult of personality would culminate in the wit of Oscar Wilde who says, “The true artist is a man who believes absolutely in himself, because he is absolutely himself.” This cultivation of the ego-identity as supreme would have its counter-sublime in Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray in which the very power of this ego-sublime would end in self-annihilation as the personality’s rejection of its own dark forces return with a vengeance as Dorian’s alter-self in the figure of the painting is destroyed, killing both self and its shadow in self-annihilation.

The whole decadent tradition of horror descends from the daemonic poetry of Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Christabel” as Paglia reminds us: “The Decadent Late Romantic line of Poe, Baudelaire, Moreau, Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Swinburne, Pater, Huysmans, Beardsley, and Wilde descends directly from Coleridge’s mystery poems.”1 Edgar Allan Poe would up the ante in his poetry and macabre tales spinning out the threads of those decadent figures from Coleridge’s imaginative vampires and sailors into weird tales that would haunt not only the American, but French Psyche for a hundred years or more. As Paglia puts it succinctly,

The French accused America of slighting her greatest poet in Poe, who may sound better in Baudelaire’s translation than in English. Poe, like Coleridge, is a giant of imagination, and imagination has its own laws. In Poe’s tales and Coleridge’s mystery poems, the daemonic expresses itself nakedly. Dionysus always shakes off rules of Apollonian form. (SP 322)

This sense of the Dionysian formlessness would be central to Georges Bataille’s reception of that whole decadent tradition which began with Baudelaire’s Poe. As Stephen S. Bush in his essay “Sovereignty and Cruelty Self-Affirmation, Self-Dissolution, and the Bataillean Subject” describes it:

Georges Bataille populates his writings with the imagery of torture and murder. His fiction revels in sexual assault. He speaks of evil as having a sovereign value for humanity. He speaks of there being intimacy between the sacrificers and the victims in human sacrificial rituals. He compares sex to human sacrifice. He describes himself meditating on photos of a man being dismembered and recounts his ecstatic experiences of joy and anguish in doing so, going so far as to call the wounded victim beautiful. He holds forth violation and transgression as things that reveal our true nature.2

One would imagine Bataille as the modern Sade, but he’s in fact just the opposite; whereas Sade would promote the ego and identity as supreme, Bataille would demote it and seek to dissolve it in the non-human or inhuman continuity of Dionysian natural flux. Bataille sees cruelty and violence as permanent aspects of the human condition. For Bataille there is both a fascination and repugnance at such shocks of cruelty, the one leading to self-affirmation while the other ends in self-negation. The shock of cruelty is also the shock of beholding individuals who are subject to no constraints, who obey no norms, no conventions, and no authorities other than themselves. (NE 47) So there’s this polarity between the Sadean self-affirmation of cruelty as gratification, and the Bataillean version as self-negation without pleasure which ends in dissolution and rupture, ecstasy and horror.

Bataille would provide an antagonistic counter-sublime to Andre Breton’s surrealist sublime, one that would shift the focus from utilitarian and political-social relations of the profane world of work to the sacred realms of ecstatic horror and darkness just beyond the confines of acceptable norms and normalcy. His was an entry into the nightmare lands of thought and being, exposing the naked self to a world where self-negation and self-affirmation lived in pure contradiction without resolution or recognition. A non-dialectical world of mystery and cruelty that few understand or condone. This was the realm of sovereignty and communication, intimacy and continuity with the inhuman core of our humanity.

What I disagree with in Bush’s essay is that he seeks to tame Bataille’s anti-social and anti-utilitarian diagnosis. He never mentions Durkheim’s sacred/profane dualism which underpins Bataille’s theories of religion, sovereignty, and communication. Instead he tries to bring Bataille back into the ethical and utilitarian fold, limiting Bataille’s vision to some erroneous estimation as a “thinker whose ethical position includes self-affirmation, not just self-effacement” (NE 50). For me the whole point of Bataille’s base materialism is an absolute non-dialectical vision of negation beyond the utilitarian world of work, politics, and desire. He seeks to guide us out of the discontinuous world of the ego-sublime and back into the continuous world of the inhuman; both natural and monstrous. If this entails doing violence to our self-pretentious civilized affirmations and ethics then for Bataille that is a price we should be willing to pay. As Bataille would say in his passionate narrative Inner Experience, “To face the impossible – exorbitant, indubitable – when nothing is possible any longer is in my eyes to have an experience of the divine; it is analogous to torment” (p.1).

From its beginnings in the literature of terror up to our own era of dark tales of horror, from the novels of King and Barker to the weird tales of Lovecraft and Ligotti, there is a deep and abiding sense that in the end cruelty and violence will prevail. Such an non-utilitarian and unethical conclusion of our existence can only be construed as pessimistic and nihilist. Living as we do in a decaying civilization teetering on the edge of implosion even as its leaders live in denial of the natural forces of climate change that in the end will not care one iota about our human wants and needs, our spurious denialism nor our political or social world of utility. The universe is as Lovecraft suggested over a century ago: “Contrary to what you may assume, I am not a pessimist but an indifferentist – that is, I don’t make the mistake of thinking that the… cosmos… gives a damn one way or the other about the especial wants and ultimate welfare of mosquitoes, rats, lice, dogs, men, horses, pterodactyls, trees, fungi, dodos, or other forms of biological energy.” Lovecraft thus embraced a philosophy of cosmic indifferentism. He believed in a meaningless, mechanical, and uncaring universe that human beings, with their naturally limited faculties, could never fully understand. His viewpoint made no allowance for religious beliefs which could not be supported scientifically. The incomprehensible, cosmic forces of his tales have as little regard for humanity as humans have for insects.

That the mechanistic world view has given way to the world of quantum forces changes nothing in that sense, and yet it opens possibilities that Lovecraft would have incorporated into that existing system of cosmic indifferentism without blinking an eye. Others like Thomas Ligotti would append to the objective view of cosmic indifferentism a more epistemic pessimism, fusing a dark surrealism of psyche and the immaterial forces of a malevolent cosmos rather than one wholly mechanical. In such a realm a new counter-sublime would arise in which fascination, allurements, and the repulsive would open up the world to an aesthetic of disgust and horror where sewers and ruins would replace paradise with an infernal garden of the frolic.

One such advocate of the darker folds of this ruinous world of disgust is Matthew M. Bartlett whose works are based on a sense of the macabre and grotesque worlds where the strong sense of disgust fascinates even as it repulses. The first thing that comes to mind in reading many of his stories is the aesthetic sense of disgust, and yet because it is based on a sense of aesthetic horror it does not nauseate so much as make us think and reflect rather than feel nauseous and repulsed. Because of our distance from the very real threat of touch, smell, and taste we can experience the allurements and dark revolting images at one remove, allow ourselves to vicariously participate in certain dark insights into human or non-human behavior that would otherwise send us packing. “Disgust affords a powerful means by which difficult truths are conveyed with maximum aesthetic impact.”3

Carolyn Korsmeyer in her book Savoring Disgust: The Foul and the Fair in Aesthetics informs us that “aesthetic disgust” is a response that, no matter how unpleasant, can rivet attention to the point where one actually may be said to savor the feeling. There are forms of disgust that fascinate and repulse at the same time. Most theoreticians will divide disgust between “material” and “moral” categories. It is material disgust that interest us in its horrific forms. Although much of the macabre and grotesque if filled with forms of disgust that many moralists would find repugnant and off-limits, its just this exposure to twisted sexual and sadistic behavior of the sick and mad creatures of horror that awaken that visceral and nauseous recoil that is the signature of this strong emotion.

Much more pertinent is what disgust forces upon us rather than our moral reaction to it. It exposes to us the wounds within us both mentally and physically, the human frailty and finitude of our situation in the world. Aesthetic disgust opens us to all those material processes that for the most part people shun and turn away from, such as sour milk, sewage, and slime; slugs, maggots, and lice; infected sores, gangrened flesh, and decomposing corpses. These things prompt unqualified visceral disgust and may include unpleasant involuntary responses, including the gag reflex, nausea, and even vomiting. But even if we do not reach the latter stages of reaction, the physical recoil of disgust is palpable.

What’s unique in horror stories is a certain distancing from the actual physical sense of such disgust, a more discursive and imaginative embrace of disgust as an aesthetic phenomenon rather than a literal enactment of it through our senses. Both in literature and film the reader/viewer is at one remove from the actual physical horrors such that they can experience such revolting scenes through the mind rather than the flesh. A vicarious rather than visceral partaking of this strong sensation. From Plato to Kristeva aesthetic disgust has fascinated us through its allure and aversion. Such concepts have imposed a sense of distancing that has formalized the aesthetics of horror by way of separating the senses of sight and hearing from the more visceral senses of touch, smell, and taste. Both in literature and film we apprehend disgust through our eyes and ears rather than experiencing it in its obtrusive immediacy through these other strong senses. It’s this ability to observe and listen that allows us to aesthetically appreciate what otherwise would nauseate and repulse us to the point of physical sickness.

Are we fearful of the ugly truth? Is it too disgusting to approach? Why hide from this monstrous existence? Shouldn’t we follow those before us? Aurel Kolnai’s long essay “Disgust” from 1929, the first dedicated philosophical study of this emotion; William Ian Miller’s Anatomy of Disgust (1997); and Winfried Menninghaus’s compendious Disgust: The Theory and History of a Strong Sensation (2003). It bears affinity with certain theoretical applications such as Martha Nussbaum’s Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law (2004) and Julia Kristeva’s examination of the abject in The Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (1982), as well as the many analyses of the disgusting in art such as Robert Rawdon Wilson’s The Hydra’s Tale: Imagining Disgust (2002). Carole Talon-Hugon’s Gout et degoit: L’art peut-il tout montrer?

After I finish rereading Matthew’s works I’ll post a more lengthy review on my site. This was only a preamble to show the importance of this type of horror and why we need it more than ever. I’m working through Gateway to Abomination, Creeping Waves, and his latest – Stay Awake Men & Other Unstable Entities.


  1. Paglia, Camille. Sexual Personae (p. 320). Yale University Press.
  2. Biles, Jeremy (Editor),  Brintnall, Kent L. (Editor). Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion (Perspectives in Continental Philosophy). Fordham University Press; 1 edition (August 3, 2015)
  3. Korsmeyer, Carolyn. Savoring Disgust: The Foul and the Fair in Aesthetics. Oxford University Press; 1 edition (March 17, 2011)

Thomas Ligotti’s Dark Gnosis

Many people in this world are always looking to science to save them from something. But just as many, or more, prefer old and reputable belief systems and their sectarian offshoots for salvation. So they trust in the deity of the Old Testament, an incontinent dotard who soiled Himself and the universe with His corruption, a low-budget divinity passing itself off as the genuine article. (Ask the Gnostics.)

Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against The Human Race

We have long since been denizens of the natural world. Everywhere around us are natural habitats, but within us is the shiver of startling and dreadful things. Simply put: We are not from here. If we vanished tomorrow, no organism on this planet would miss us. Nothing in nature needs us. We are like Mainländer’s suicidal God. Nothing needed Him either, and His uselessness was transferred to us after He burst out of existence. We have no business being in this world. We move among living things, all those natural puppets with nothing in their heads. But our heads are in another place, a world apart where all the puppets exist not in the midst of life but outside it. We are those puppets, those human puppets. We are crazed mimics of the natural prowling about for a peace that will never be ours. And the medium in which we circulate is that of the supernatural, a dusky element of horror that obtains for those who believe in what should be and should not be. This is our secret quarter. This is where we rave with insanity on the level of metaphysics, fracturing reality and breaking the laws of life.

Deviations from the natural have whirled around us all our days. We kept them at arm’s length, abnormalities we denied were elemental to our being. But absent us there is nothing of the supernatural in the universe. We are aberrations— beings born undead, neither one thing nor another, or two things at once … uncanny things that have nothing to do with the rest of creation, horrors that poison the world by sowing our madness everywhere we go, glutting daylight and darkness with incorporeal obscenities. From across an immeasurable divide, we brought the supernatural into all that is manifest. Like a faint haze it floats around us. We keep company with ghosts. Their graves are marked in our minds, and they will never be disinterred from the cemeteries of our remembrance. Our heartbeats are numbered, our steps counted. Even as we survive and reproduce, we know ourselves to be dying in a dark corner of infinity. Wherever we go, we know not what expects our arrival but only that it is there.1

Extreme forms of pessimism like Ligotti’s above come very close to the ancient 2nd Century forms of Gnosticism with its anti-cosmic hatred of the universe of suffering and decay.

To sum up the essential position of the Gnostics in still simpler terms, let us say that in their eyes the evil which taints the whole of creation and alienates man in body, mind, and soul, deprives him of the awareness necessary for his own salvation. Man, the shadow of man, possesses only a shadow of consciousness. And it is to this one task that the Gnostics of the first centuries AD deliberately devoted themselves, choosing paths which were not only unorthodox but which, moreover, greatly scandalized their contemporaries: to create in man a true consciousness, which would permit him to impart to his thoughts and deeds the permanence and the rigour necessary to cast off the shackles of this world. (The Gnostics by Jacques Lacarriere)

Ligotti has mentioned the use of Gnostic themes in his works, and yet he stops short of accepting their notion of the Alien Stranger God out beyond the rims of the Real. For Ligotti like most pessimists this is it, there is no other existence beyond this immanent realm of terror and fascination. Viscerally, imperiously, irremissibly, the Gnostic feels life, thought, human and planetary destiny to be a failed work, limited and vitiated in its most fundamental structures. Everything, from the distant stars to the nuclei of our body-cells, carries the materially demonstrable trace of an original imperfection which only Gnosticism and the means it proposes can combat. Asked by an interviewer whether the tenets and philosophy/ cosmology of the early Gnostic cults had any influence upon his thinking, and/ or writing. He replied:

I liked the Gnostics because they cursed the same things I’ve cursed: the Boss of the Bible, the ways of the world, and so on. Of course, they always had their own absentee Boss way out there beyond contemplation or criticism, and I could never follow them to that place.

—Triangulating the Daemon An Interview with Thomas Ligotti Interview by R. F. Paul and Keith Schurholz

Ligotti’s message is similar to the Gnostics (as he states above) but withdraws from accepting any form of soteriological redemption or resurrection as suggested by the Gnostics, who for their part believed there was an uncreated spark that had been trapped in the vessels or jars of existence by the malevolent Demiurge from the foundations of the world. The Gnostics believed this spark could be awakened out of its zombie like sleep in existence and begin its long ascent back to the great Outside of the uncreated Abyss. Ligotti believed this was one more hopeful and optimistic dream of escape, and even though it might be a beautiful vision was like everything else a failed promise that did not fulfill its goal of releasing humanity from suffering. Ligotti offers no such hope, only the stark truth that we are doomed to a final extinction from which their will be no redemption, no resurrection: only an end to things in an entropic night of darkness without end or consolation.


  1.  Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (pp. 221-222). Hippocampus Press.

The Aesthetics of Ugliness

To think that another person shared my love for the icy bleakness of things.
—Thomas Ligotti

Great investigators of the heart have plunged into the frightful abyss of evil and have represented the awful forms that confronted them in its night. Great poets like Dante have further sketched these shapes; painters like Orcagna, Michelangelo, Rubens, and [Peter] Cornelius have given them sensuous presence, and musicians like [Ludwig] Spohr have allowed us to hear the dreadful tones of perdition, through which evil screeches and howls the conflict of its torn spirit. Hell is not simply ethico-religious, it is also aesthetic. We stand in the midst of evil and general wickedness, but also in the midst of ugliness. The fright of non-form and the deformed, of vulgarity and atrociousness, surround us in endless shapes, ranging in dimensions from the pygmy to those giant distortions out of which infernal evil grins at us, baring its teeth. It is into this hell of the beautiful that we wish to descend. But descent is impossible without also gaining admittance into the real hell, the hell of evil, since the ugliest ugliness is not that which in nature repels us in swamps, crippled trees, newts and toads, in gaping sea monster jaws and massive pachyderms, in rats and apes; it is the selfishness that reveals itself in spiteful and frivolous gestures, in the furrows of passion, in crooked glances and—in crime.

—Karl Rosenkranz, Aesthetics of Ugliness

Mist, Fog, and Light: The Spectral World

True macabrists are as rare as poets and form a secret society by the bad-standing of their memberships elsewhere, some of their outside affiliations having been cancelled as early as birth.

Mist on a lake, fog in thick woods, a golden light shining on wet stones—such sights make it all very easy. Something lives in the lake, rustles through the woods, inhabits the stones or the earth beneath them. Whatever it may be, this something lies just out of sight, but not out of vision for the eyes that never blink. In the right surroundings our entire being is made of eyes that dilate to witness the haunting of the universe. But really, do the right surroundings have to be so obvious in their spectral atmosphere?

Just a little doubt slipped into the mind, a little trickle of suspicion in the bloodstream, and all those eyes of ours, one by one, open up to the world and see its horror. Then: no belief or body of laws will guard you; no friend, no counselor, no appointed personage will save you; no locked door will protect you; no private office will hide you. Not even the solar brilliance of a summer day will harbor you from horror. For horror eats the light and digests it into darkness.

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

—Thomas Ligotti, Songs of a Dead Dreamer

The Challenge of Horror: The Fragility of Existence

 

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

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

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The Horror Story of Climate Denialism

Self-Deception as the Art of Prediction, Illusion, and Ideological Destruction

I provide three quotes below which summed up provide us a road map to why humans are so prone to error, bias, illusion, and self-deception. Over eons of evolutionary time we developed the need to predict the future, to anticipate ahead of time what may happen a few moments down the pipe: our lives depended on it. So we began projecting information, filling in the blank spaces of our inadequate knowledge with illusion based on past experience. Sometimes we got it right, sometimes not. But as we began developing closer ties to others, developing social systems, this once proud predictive tool became a tool for deceit, lying, and deception not only of ourselves but others so that we developed whole cultures out of a tissue of lies and myths to support systems of power, control, and oppression by the few over the many. And, yet, that very evolutionary selective process that once helped us survive in the wilderness, the natural world of danger and suffering, has now in our artificial world of technocivilization become a tool for self-destruction by way of deceit and self-deception on a global scale. We’ve built systems of self-deceptive ideological constructs out of world-wide mediatainment and the political and socio-cultural illusions  that have produced Climate Change Denialism that is leading us into a dangerous territory of illusion and self-deceptive forms of deceit by beings whose only agenda is to sacrifice the majority  of humans on the planet for the benefit of the few. Simply put we are living in a horror story in which reality is a complete and utter artificial lie propagated by systems of ideological propaganda that no longer appears as such.


E.H. Grumbrich in his classic work Art and Illusion describes our powers of anticipation, our ability to see ahead of things, to master the unknown by filling in the blanks, selecting the blind spots in our visual fields and placing imaginative leaps of information into the holes. He terms this projection after the early psychologies of the 20th Century. He’ll put it more simply as “Expectation creates Illusion.” And that is the condition of all Art.

Andy Clark on the Predictive Mind:

“The mystery is, and remains, how mere matter manages to give rise to thinking, imagining, dreaming, and the whole smorgasbord of mentality, emotion, and intelligent action. Thinking matter, dreaming matter, conscious matter: that’s the thing that it’s hard to get your head—whatever it’s made of—around. But there is an emerging clue.”

“The clue can be summed up in a single word: prediction. To deal rapidly and fluently with an uncertain and noisy world, brains like ours have become masters of prediction—surfing the waves of noisy and ambiguous sensory stimulation by, in effect, trying to stay just ahead of them. A skilled surfer stays ‘in the pocket’: close to, yet just ahead of the place where the wave is breaking. This provides power and, when the wave breaks, it does not catch her. The brain’s task is not dissimilar. By constantly attempting to predict the incoming sensory signal we become able—in ways we shall soon explore in detail—to learn about the world around us and to engage that world in thought and action. Successful, world-engaging prediction is not easy. It depends crucially upon simultaneously estimating the state of the world and our own sensory uncertainty. But get that right, and active agents can both know and behaviourally engage their worlds, safely riding wave upon wave of sensory stimulation.”1

Robert Trivers in Deceit and Self-Deception will ask:

“Whence self-deception? Why do we possess marvelous sense organs to detect information only to distort it upon arrival? … Together our sensory systems are organized to give us a detailed and accurate view of reality, exactly as we would expect if truth about the outside world helps us to navigate it more effectively. But once this information arrives in our brains, it is often distorted and biased to our conscious minds. We deny the truth to ourselves. We project onto others traits that are in fact true of ourselves—and then attack them! We repress painful memories, create completely false ones, rationalize immoral behavior, act repeatedly to boost positive self-opinion, and show a suite of ego-defense mechanisms. Why?”

His answer:

“The central claim of this book is that self-deception evolves in the service of deception—the better to fool others. Sometimes it also benefits deception by saving on cognitive load during the act, and at times it also provides an easy defense against accusations of deception (namely, I was unconscious of my actions). In the first case, the self-deceived fails to give off the cues that go with consciously mediated deception, thus escaping detection. In the second, the actual process of deception is rendered cognitively less expensive by keeping part of the truth in the unconscious. That is, the brain can act more efficiently when it is unaware of the ongoing contradiction. And in the third case, the deception, when detected, is more easily defended against—that is, rationalized— to others as being unconsciously propagated. In some cases, self-deception may give a direct personal advantage by at least temporarily elevating the organism into a more productive state, but most of the time such elevation occurs without self-deception.”2

1. Andy Clark. Surfing Uncertainty: Prediction, Action, and the Embodied Mind . Oxford University Press.
2. Trivers, Rober. Deceit and Self-Deception

Articulating the Impossible: Horror as Communication


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Loneliness and Solitude: The Solitaire’s Way

What begins as a solitary truth soon proliferates like malignant cells in the body of a dream, a body whose true outline remains unknown. Perhaps, then, we should be grateful to the whims of chemistry, the caprices of circumstance, and the enigmas of personal taste for giving us such an array of strictly local realities and desires.

—Thomas Ligotti, Songs of a Dead Dreamer

In many ways loneliness and being alone have such differing connotations. Being a solitaire and for the most part a reclusive creature who likes being alone I hardly ever feel lonely. Of course being more of a manic/depressive with schizoid tendencies I keep myself company very well with books, music, TV, movies, writing, painting, etc…. all the distractions of entertainment that most have access too; and, yet, there are the times in-between, the silences of solitude – of walks, meditation, and just vegetating as an isolated organic being: these, too, are part of a solitaires existence and to be relished rather than feared. To me it’s crowds and noise and the excess of intimacy of others surrounding one that is the true loneliness. Can one ever truly know another? And, the impossibility of being alone in a crowd is for a solitaire the most frightening thing in the world.

Long before they created all these various drugs for such disorders I learned to move with the swings from pole to pole of emotion, using both the manic mercurial upswings toward my satirical and sardonic escapades, while allowing the downturn into the dark abyss of the depressive cycle to tempt out the demons below the threshold of my creativity to come through. In this way I learned to balance my emotional turmoil’s creatively rather than destructively. Admitting that this was not always the case, and as a young man I was always self-destructive during my various moods; both manic and depressive. I hate that term bi-polar disorder, so clinical and objective as if we were caged specimens in some zoo of medical knowledge rather than creatures whose physical systems just seemed to go haywire. But then again I wonder about that, too; for the simple reason that my ability to ride the waves of these cycles has led me to some very extreme creative episodes that otherwise would have never happened if I’d of been a so-to-speak normal being.

To be normal is a terrible thing, to be part of some collective appraisal, living out one’s life in the monotony of an emotive state of civilizational equanimity. The sleepwalkers of normalcy shall never know the extremes of emotive existence: the intensity of summer and winter, cold and heat, rage and fury in the pursuit of that creative fire that unleashes bouts of strangeness, ecstasy, and horror. For better or worse we who have been stricken with the dark touch of those blasted fires of the infernal regions know without a doubt what it means to live on the edge of oblivion. Some never survive it crawling back into the dark recesses of their security blankets of futility and desperation, others enter its pain with eyes open and fearless of what may come next.

Ego-Death: Subtracting the Self from the Equation?

“ In the beast, suffering is self-confined; in man, it knocks holes into a fear of the world and a despair of life.” —Peter Wessel Zapffe

Since the conclusion of pessimism is that consciousness is the culprit of all our woes, I’ve often wondered why we don’t spend all our efforts on eliding it. Since all the major religions on the planet were systems of ego-death ritual and hygiene, and obviously they only worked for a very few isn’t it time to provide a more scientific path to subtraction of self? Isn’t this really what Badiou is getting at after all? Even Zizek would subtract nothing from nothing getting less than nothing… are we not after all just a bunch of othings? Even all these speculative realists have sought ways out of this quandary of self-referential insanity, and have found none… so maybe philosophy is at a dead end and the sciences should just put an end to this thing, this in plain site nothing we term consciousness? What would it be like to have a planetary melt-down of consciousness? Eliminating the planetary #1 criminal from the fabric of existence? Instead we just continue to wonder what consciousness is rather than eliminating it altogether… hell we even want our advance AI robots to be conscious and self-aware as we are… why impose consciousness on a machine when we know it is at the core of our human misery? Tell me…. ? Would you knowingly bring into existence the very thing that produces misery in our own lives and give it to somethin not human as if it were a gift rather than a costly mistake?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Redemption by Death: On Becoming Android


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

As Beiser says of Mainlander:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Hyperstitional Daemonism: Reality as a Fictional Daemon

Hyperstitional Daemonism – a few quotes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My favorite from the CCRU collection:

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

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

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

Something to think through… too much to discuss here.


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

A Survivor’s Exile

To be a survivor is to live in exile, to be haunted by memories rather than people, to know simulacrum and dark entities rather than the companions of a forgotten world. The old saying of “let the dead bury the dead” has no meaning for a survivor, she is bound to the dead like a priest to his parishioners; forever interceding on their behalf to the emptiness that is and is not. The survivor is one of the walking dead, a memory of past time come alive; living with that which cannot live, the survivor walks through time as a ghost of death’s promise. Exile is itself a state not of mind, but of hell’s cold heart; there being no redemption for survivors, only the endless repetition of frozen desires.

The Medusa’s Mask: The Literature of Fascination

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.

—Sibylle Baumbach, Literature and Fascination

As children we grow up being taught that we live in a natural world, a mundane realm of common sense reality that seems to be well-structured, bound by certain indelible rules and regulations that underlie the scientific worldview we are taught in schools as ours. We learn that since the Enlightenment the thought of magic, fairies, and monsters is the stuff of fantasy and the mentally ill. That the real world, the world we all live in is disenchanted, a realm where all our ancestral myths and religious notions have vanished without trace: a secular world where reason and logic prevail.

Growing up we either read – or are read too, certain books where fairies and evil creatures do exist: fairy tales, vampires, werewolves, household spirits, ghosts, and all kinds of monsterous creatures that both frighten us and fascinate us. Sometimes we have dreams or nightmares in which these creatures appear to us as if from another realm, as if we existed in two worlds at once: a world where everything is structured, ordered, and conforms to the everyday world our parents have taught us; and, then the other world —a realm where everything our parents taught us is turned upside-down and topsy-turvy, a land of magical beings that defy our mundane natural order of reason and logic.

We are taught to distinguish between our world of reason and logic, our natural world where apples always fall because of gravity; and, the world of ‘make believe’, that other world of dreams and nightmares, fiction and fairy tales. When we become adults we assume the natural world where we work, eat, play, have sex, raise children ourselves is the real world, and that all the hocus-pocus stuff of magic and fantasy is part of the unreal world of make-believe. So we begin to divide the world into real and unreal, good and evil as if this were just the way it is – a sort of unwritten law of our mind’s constitution, to be accepted and not doubted. But then we’re faced with certain dilemmas when the world defies what our parents, teachers, and scientists have taught us, when we are suddenly faced with things or events in the real world that do not conform with these natural explanations, when the world is suddenly strange and we become fascinated by certain inexplicable and unruly – even unnatural objects and events.

We enter our favorite bookstore and see it has books lined up under various categories like history, literature, science, fantasy and science fiction, occult, new age, etc. We know that this makes it easier for people to find things that interest them, and it does. But then we begin to question why there is so many more books in the fantasy, science fiction, occult and new age sections, while the sections on history, literature, science, nature, etc. seem to be restricted to smaller bookshelves. Then we wonder why so many people are interested in the types of things our parents taught us are make-believe and unreal. What is it about such unreal worlds that seduce us, attract us, fascinate us?

On our nightly television we are presented with worlds that on the surface resemble our own such as comedy sit-coms, murder mysteries, medical, legal, and other shows that seem to fit our normal expectations, etc.; and, then we are presented with other shows that seduce us to believe in ghosts, ancient aliens, magic, horror, fantasy, monsters, etc. – shows that allure us into mysterious realms that both fascinate and fill us with dread. Why are we haunted by all these supposedly unnatural and – as some say, supernatural and superstitious tales? Why do so many people feel the need to spend their time watching or reading about things that have never been, that are make-believe, or that seduce us into such emotions and affective regions as fearful and uncanny feelings. If we live in a secular age devoid of gods and monsters alike (except for the real monsters like killers and psychopaths). What is it that fascinates and allures us toward all these ancient tribal superstitions about evil magical beings from other realms?

Sibylle Baumbach in her book Literature and Fascination terms this need within us to be fascinated by things and events that fill us with either dread or desire as the medusamorphosis ‘effect’:

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 conceptualization 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

It’s this medusa effect she tells us that “allows us to rationalize the cognitive disorientation produced by simultaneous reactions of intense attraction and repulsion and alludes to the tension between presence and absence, which is constitutive of the Medusa effect”. (LF, 2)

For many of us the works of magical realism, the fantastic, weird, uncanny, or realms of horror, dread, and terror are associated with the notion of fascination as mysterious, disquieting and obscure. Many of these types of fictions or films entail elements of anxious uncertainty and risk, and allude to the occult and mystic roots of the allotrope of fascination. Fascination relates to the ability of objects or people to resonate with our innate, hidden, subversive and potentially devious desires which are repressed in daily social interaction, but surface when we are confronted with images or practices of transgression that challenge ethical codes, aesthetic conventions or cultural norms. Some of the most effective fascination mechanisms arise in the nexus of our desire to witness a forbidden spectacle and our dread of its potentially dangerous repercussions. (LF, 4)

Rosemary Jackson in her classic work Fantasy – The Literature of Subversion reminds us that in our secular disenchanted culture, desire for otherness is not displaced into alternative regions of heaven or hell, but is directed towards the absent areas of this world, transforming it into something ‘other’ than the familiar, comfortable one.2 In conceptualizing this she uses the term ‘paraxis’,  a telling notion in relation to the place, or space, of the fantastic, for it implies an inextricable link to the main body of the ‘real’ which it shades and threatens. (FLS, 11) It’s a liminal world of edges, realms that are neither real or unreal, a web of interrelated edgelands where the weird and uncanny seem to mutate and for a time co-exist. It’s this in-betweenness, this zone of fascination and dread that allows us to transgress our normal expectations and entertain the possibility of unreal events or things to affect us.

Thomas Ligotti in his short tale The Medusa captures this notion of fascination aesthetically and with éclat:

“We can only live by leaving our ‘soul’ in the hands of the Medusa,” Dregler wrote in New Meditations. “Whether she is an angel or a gargoyle is not the point. Each merely allows us a gruesome diversion from some ultimate catastrophe which would turn us to stone; each is a mask hiding the worst visage, a medicine that numbs the mind. And the Medusa will see to it that we are protected, sealing our eyelids closed with the gluey spittle of her snakes, while their bodies elongate and slither past our lips to devour us from the inside. This is what we must never witness, except in the imagination, where it is a charming sight. For in the mind the Medusa fascinates much more than she appalls, and haunts us just this side of petrification. On the other side is the unthinkable, the unheard-of, that-which-should-not-be: hence, the Real. This is what throttles our souls with a thousand fingers—somewhere, perhaps in that dim room which caused us to forget ourselves, that place where we left ourselves behind amid shadows and strange sounds—while our minds and words toy, like playful, stupid pets, with diversions of an immeasurable disaster. The tragedy is that we must steer so close in order to avoid this hazard. We may hide from horror only in the heart of horror.”3

He uses the term ‘Real’ to connote this sense of the forbidden, the unknown – “the other side is the unthinkable, the unheard-of, that-which-should-not-be”. The notion of the Real has an interesting history in modern thought. In philosophy, the Real is that which is the authentic, unchangeable truth. It may be considered a primordial, external dimension of experience, referred to as the infinite, absolute or noumenal, as opposed to a reality contingent on sense perception and the material order. The Real is often considered irreducible to the symbolic order of lived experience, but may be gestured to in certain cases, such as the experience of the sublime.4

The primordial Real seems to be a chaotic or non-differentiated realm – what some term the Outside (or Absolute). Slavoj Žižek following Lacan will divide the notions of the Real into three areas: the “imaginary real”: a horrific thing, that which conveys the sense of horror in horror films; the “symbolic real”: the signifier reduced to a meaningless formula like quantum physics, which cannot be understood in any meaningful way, only grasped through abstract mathematics; and, the “real Real”: an unfathomable something that permeates things as a trace of the sublime. (ibid.) In fact Žižek describes this third form as “the direct experience of the Real as opposed to everyday social reality – the Real in its extreme violence as the price to be paid for peeling off the deceptive layers of reality.”5

In many ways we are all seduced into a fictional world from birth to adulthood, we call it culture, and the process of enculturation in which we are inducted into the order of the real which our parents, teachers, and the supposed authorities of our secular order, the scientists tell us is the world as it is, the real world of our everyday commonsensical realm. But the truth is our world is much more, and our hypernormalization to the secular worldview has diminished and exclude what does not fit into its reasonable and logical modes of thought and affect. As William Blake the poet once put it:

Now I a fourfold vision see And a fourfold vision is given to me Tis fourfold in my supreme delight And three fold in soft Beulahs night And twofold Always. May God us keep From Single vision & Newtons sleep.

— Blake, Letter to Thomas Butt, 22 November 1802. Quoted in Geoffrey Keynes (ed.), The Letters of William Blake(1956)

The point here for Blake’s satirical diatribe is an attack on the literalism of the Newtonian or scientific-mechanist mindset. In his own visionary work The Marriage of Heaven and Hell he’d suggest that – “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.” In this context the ‘Infinite’ is the Real in Žižek’s sense of what’s left once we strip away the cultural incrustations that have closed us up in a rational world of logic and instrumental reason.

It’s this seduction of fascination for the Real, for the world that is just the other side of our culturally limited realm of reason and logic, a realm that fills us with both dread and foreboding and yet – elicits fascination which keeps us returning to narratives of horror and the weird, our minds eerily fascinated by the liminal spaces of the edgelands just outside our cultural filters and blinkers. As Baumbach relates it using tales of fascination as a secret strategy to draw readers into a potentially dangerous and yet irresistibly seductive narrative, they absorb strategies of attraction and repulsion, alternately releasing these forces as their tales unfold to excite and torment our imagination and bind us to the reading experience. Continuing she states: “medusamorphoses, however, do not end here. While consistently applying fascination’s dual mechanisms to draw readers in, they acquire an apotropaic function. These narratives of fascination reflect upon, and even expose, the luring powers they exert. They reveal their techniques, unveil key mechanisms of fascination and, as a result, alert readers to their extreme forces of duality. They disclose and develop strategies to overcome fascination to sustain narrative progression, facilitating readers’ understanding of their tensions and their release and opening up a meta-discourse that allows for deep reflections upon mechanisms of narrative seduction and cognitive disorientation, which are at once unsettling and enticing.” (LF, 253)


  1. Baumbach, Sibylle. Literature and Fascination. Palgrave Macmillan; 1st ed. 2015 edition (July 30, 2015) LF
  2.  Jackson, Rosemary. Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion. Routledge; 1 edition (March 7, 2008) FLS
  3. Ligotti, Thomas. Noctuary. Subterranean Press. (June 25, 2012)
  4.  see: The Real Wikipedia
  5. Zizek, Slavoj. Welcome to the Desert of the Real: Five Essays on September 11 and Related Dates (Radical Thinkers) (pp. 5-6). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.

Preludium: Anareta – The Destroyer

In ancient times our planet was already manifest as the maleficent kingdom of the Dark Lord of Time, Abraxas. The place from which all things began: a portal to the infernal realms, a killing machine, a graveyard in the dust of the cosmos, a palace of absolute death and destruction. It was known as Anareta in the ancient tongues of the most unholy tribes. Later it would weaken into common parlance, a myth…

One of the most common astrological terms used in medieval Astrology is the term Anareta. It derives from the Greek and translates to “destroyer”, standing for any planet that has deeply maleficent effects on one’s life. In the ancient cosmos of the Gnostics it was known as a mask and parable of Earth herself, the ontological seat of all evil and horror. In some interpretations, Anareta is a harbinger of doom and the destroyer worm at the core of life itself; for others it destroys form in the chaos of formlessness,  shaping our lives by force and without our consent.

Later dualists of the Gnostic variety would appropriate this astrological sign as an indicator of the ontological horror of earth itself and all life on it as an endless killing zone: an infernal paradise in which the lords of death ruled lawlessly. According to Gnostic theology, the entire manifest cosmos was created by a hostile (or at best, ignorant) force of darkness and is thus a hideous aberration whose mad mind shapes and reshapes the cosmic fires attuning them to a never-ending circle of bittersweet agony without end.

Cormac McCarthy in Blood Meridian would take up this anaretic theme as his portrays the Glanton Gang on its death march across the Mexican desert:

The white noon saw them through the waste like a ghost army, so pale they were with dust, like shades of figures erased upon a board. The wolves loped paler yet and grouped and skittered and lifted their lean snouts on the air. At night the horses were fed by hand from sacks of meal and watered from buckets. There was no more sickness. The survivors lay quietly in that cratered void and watched the whitehot stars go rifling down the dark. Or slept with their alien hearts beating in the sand like pilgrims exhausted upon the face of the planet Anareta, clutched to a namelessness wheeling in the night.1

Ernest Becker in his last work Escape from Evil once described the organic nightmare of our world as “a gory spectacle, a science-fiction nightmare in which digestive tracts fitted with teeth at one end are tearing away at whatever flesh they can reach, and at the other end are piling up the fuming waste excrement as they move along in search of more flesh.”2

The monstrosity of life for humans is more delirious in that unlike the non-human animals, plants, and insects around us in this infernal paradise we are fully aware, conscious of the fact of this nightmare-in-Life; haunted by the very power of thought itself to know and see the world as it is. And, yet, over eons of time the very fact of our plight, our consciousness, we turned away into illusion; distanced ourselves from the harsh truth of the world, produced a secondary world of hope and faith, of desire and happiness to assuage our suffering within this kingdom of death. This accidental fall into consciousness with its concomitant tendency to withdraw from any actual knowledge of the world as it is, coupled with a desire to escape this dark truth led us over eons into various convoluted systems of belief to support our utopian desires to survive and propagate our species upon this killing world. Even now as we face certain extinction in the face of our deluded schemes to create an artificial paradise to obviate the truth of our dark heritage we still hang onto optimistic belief we are the exception to the rule, that we, alone, shall overcome and survive all odds to live on in this universe of death.

There are those among us who have tried to communicate a counter-truth, to open the eyes of their brethren to the deceptive powers of their own minds, and show them the world as it is; as world of pain and suffering, a killing-zone without reprieve. These few, these pessimists among us have not been well received by the many; in fact, for the most part they have been silenced, left unpublished, or left to their own kind to languish in oblivion outside the conclaves of the happy and optimistic worlds of artificial delight. This was to be expected, no amount of rhetoric or persuasion has yet succeeded in awakening the many to the dark visions of the shadow brethren of the dark knowledge, a gnosis of things in their vastatation.

With the rise of the Enlightenment an era of illumination and Reason, revolutions and wars, came a heterodox turn toward the dark and gothic in art and literature, even as philosophers and scientists began preaching progress and humanistic optimism for our species and its political spectrum. These darker brethren of the arts dissatisfied by the supposed Light of Reason opened up channels into the older modes of superstition, lust, terror, and deviance; a counter-world to the realm of happiness being presented by the mainstream rulers of democratic utopias. It showed forth the underbelly of violence and terror at the heart of revolutionary fervor, of the dark powers of irrationalism at the center of supposed Enlightenment Reason and Politics.

Against such utopian desire and the comedy of existence a literature of dread and terror would arise in the midst of all this light and optimism, a world of ancient castles and Gothic towers, of madmen and lunatics, women forced into sexual slavery and imprisoned in realms of darkness where the torturers dungeon pervaded every aspect of existence. It was a realm of sublime terror, of natural mountains and forests that hovered in a mood of strangeness in which nameless things seemed to roam just at the edge of sight. It would be from this Gothic world of such authors as Anne Radcliffe in her The Mysteries of Udolpho that a generation of Romantic poets would inherit a new atmosphere of heights and depths, of ruins and dark shadowy realms of wickedness and lust.

It was a realm of the daemonic, a “world of the nightmare and the scapegoat, of bondage and pain and confusion; the world as it is before the human imagination begins to work on it and before any image of human desire, such as the city or the garden, has been solidly established; the world also of perverted or wasted work, ruins and catacombs, instruments of torture and monuments of folly.”3 This was a world where the ancient pagan spirits held sway, the wandering fauna and satyrs of old brought forth out of forest and glen. Here Fate and Necessity ruled the natural world and those children of man who believed themselves free.

This is the world of tyrant, inscrutable, ruthless, melancholy, whose insatiable will demands loyalty and absolute devotion. At the same time it is a realm of victims, those who must be sacrificed to bolster the strength of others. Dark rituals and savage pagan rites carried out under the deep cover of ancient night and the horned moon. A world of cannibalism, torture, and mutilation in which the victims undergo the ancient rites of sparagmos or tearing apart of the sacrificial body as in the folklore of giants and ogres.

And, yet, these fantasy worlds would give way to more naturalistic settings and atmospheres in which nothing was named, and the moods were set by what is nameless and hidden away in the dark hollows of the mind or castle. For the ancient Greeks ate and nemesis ruled the world with an iron fist, the omnipotence of external fate, which in later times became the wheel of fortune. Ate was the goddess or spirit of delusion, infatuation, blind folly, rash action and reckless impulse who led men down the path to ruin. While Nemesis was the Goddess of vengeful fate, rightful retribution, or revenge as represented in her name which has a rough translation of “to give what is due” from Greek language/ dialect to English. Samuel Johnson once spouted that there were only three themes in Western Literature: love, power, and revenge.

Revenge is an act of passion; vengeance of justice. Injuries are revenged; crimes are avenged. —Samuel Johnson

Gothic romance is a stepchild of the ancient Greek tragedies melded to the ironies of the Enlightenment age of Reason. Romance would inherit the Aristotelian conceptions of pity and fear, which would unite the bittersweet world of pain with forms of pleasure. In this early literature fear was aligned with the sublime of distance, or terror, in which natural objects would take on the moods of the mind’s self-imaginings. Fears of being touched by the daemonic, or horror; and, fear without an object, or dread (Angst) become pensive and melancholic. Both the heroic and decadent forms of pity would interlace these worlds, sparking masculine chivalry or the tender and languid operations of a relaxed charm, broken only by the animistic fantasies of a mind gone wild with darkness visible.

This was the age caught up in a transition for the marvelous realms of magic and superstition impinging on a new spirit of secularism and atheism. This was an in-between time, a time in which a recognition that time is out of join, a sense that time is the devourer of life, the mouth of hell at the previous moment, when the potential passes forever into the actual, or, in its ultimate horror, the tick-tock time of puppets become all too real, machines that were too human bound to the circle of a repetitive time of commerce and instruments.

Yet, it was the realms of dreams that became the earmark of horror and the daemonic pull ghosts and vampires, werewolves and wicked landowners turned demon princes. The Gothic tales would harbor “gods, demons, hell, spirits and souls of men, miracles, prodigies, enchantments, witchcraft, thunder, tempests, raging seas, inundations, torrents, earthquakes, volcanoes, monsters, serpents, lions, tigers, fire, war, pestilence, famine, etc.”4 Joseph Addison (1672–1719) provided a more psychological account of sublime terror in his journal The Spectator in 1712, claiming “it does not arise so properly from the description of what is terrible, as from the reflection we make on our selves at the time of reading it,” situating those things that terrify us at the center of our attempts to understand our own identity (Addison 2000, 105). (Cardin)

This shifting sense of identity and self would remain at issue throughout the history of horror moving between the mainstream culture of capitalist desire, and the decadent undertow of its shadow in the worlds of dissolution, decay, and corruption within the Romantics and Late Romantic eras. In the figure of Edgar Allen Poe the threads of this two-fold realm of Romantic decadence and the mainstream realm of science and commerce seemed to discover a sense of strange bedfellows. Thomas Ligotti would say of Poe:

“In his tales, Poe created a world that is wholly evil, desolate, and doomed. These qualities give consistency to his imagined world. And there is no escape from this world, only a fall into it. Poe’s enclosure of the reader in an environment without an exit distinguishes his works from those of earlier writers like Radcliffe. His characters do not take us from place to place looking at the scenery. They are inside a world that has no outside— no well-mapped places from which one can come and none to which one can go. The reader of Poe never has the sense that anything exists outside the frame of his narratives. What they suggest is that the only thing beyond what our senses can perceive and our mind can fully comprehend is blackness, nothing. It is the same in those most atmospheric of experiences we all know— dreams.”5

This feeling of enclosure, of being imprisoned in a cell, closed off from one’s self and the world, fragmented and tortured by a sense of the immensity of nothingness surrounding us; an abyss of solitude and eerie all pervasive doom. As Camille Paglia puts it in Poe the whole tradition of English Romanticism fuses with a debilitated Puritanism. “American Romanticism is really Decadent Late Romanticism, a style of sexual perversity, closure, and fragmentation or decay. Poe, Coleridge’s heir, shows Wordsworthian nature as a dead end. His Gothic entombments shut down the American frontier and repeal the ideal of progress. Poe moves Romanticism into its Mannerist late phase. From 1830 on, American and French Romanticism develop on parallel tracks.”6

The Romantic critic of our age Harold Bloom once said of Poe’s relation to the great optimist of the American Renaissance: “Self-reliance, the Emersonian answer to Original Sin, does not exist in the Poe cosmos, where you necessarily start out damned, doomed, and dismal.”7 For Poe the Self was not to be relied on but rather is a self-lacerating nothingness that should be expunged as soon as possible. For Poe there was no escaping our bondage to the past, we were all locked in key step with the ruinous demise of Usher, caught in the snares of a fatalistic world of ancestral power and hatred, revenge and death.

As if Poe had been reading Freud’s ruminations in the The Ego and the Id (1923) about the bodily ego he would conclude his The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym:

I.e. the ego is ultimately derived from bodily sensations, chiefly from those springing from the surface of the body, besides, as we have seen above, representing the superficies of the mental apparatus.

In Freud this notion would seem to mirror Poe:

The ego is first and foremost a bodily ego; it is not merely a surface entity, but is itself the projection of a surface. If we wish to find an anatomical analogy for it we can best identify it with the “cortical homunculus” of the anatomists, which stands on its head in the cortex, sticks up its heels, faces backwards and, as we know, has its speech-area on the left-hand side.

This sense of self and consciousness being tied to the body and its sensations, a questioning of its origins as a surface tension in the bodily functions rather than some essential element or eidos in its own right; a mere function of the ephemeral and decaying world of temporal relations rather than some incarnation of an immortal Self. It’s this movement from the superstations of both philosophical and religious myths of Self-Identity to at more scientific and materialist secularism – a disenchantment of the ancient powers of Mind in magic and religious forms which would inform Poe and his legacy in those to follow in the literature of horror.

This sense of the erasure of Self and Identity would become overt in Poe’s Eureka:

Think that the sense of individual identity will be gradually merged in the general consciousness—that Man, for example, ceasing imperceptibly to feel himself Man, will at length attain that awfully triumphant epoch when he shall recognize his existence as that of Jehovah. In the meantime bear in mind that all is Life—Life—Life within Life—the less within the greater, and all within the Spirit Divine.

Half parody and satire, a sort of daemonic laughter at the Emersonian credo of Self-Reliance, the dissolution and fragmentation of self in the cosmic graveyard of the abyss. To this, Poe appends a “Note”: “The pain of the consideration that we shall lose our individual identity, ceases at once when we further reflect that the process, as above described, is, neither more nor less than that of the absorption, by each individual intelligence of all other intelligences (that is, of the Universe) into its own. That God may be all in all, each must become God.” [my italics]

As Bloom would say of this mishmash of bodily ego and sublime self-effacement and merger with the abyss: “If we read closely, Poe’s trope is “absorption,” and we are where we always are in Poe, amid ultimate fantasies of introjection in which the bodily ego and the cosmos become indistinguishable.” (ibid., 14).

The erasure of self and cosmos in a mutual absorption would haunt the worlds of many horror writer’s, but would be one of the centerpieces of the Ligottian cosmos: a cosmos bereft of humans absorbed by the tentacular powers of nameless horrors in an infernal paradise of self-lacerating nothingness.

Ultimately Poe’s complete oeuvre is a “hymn to negativity” (Bloom), a abyssal quest for the ruinous expulsion of Self-Reliance and every form of Transcendental Idealism. Summing up Poe’s legacy and influence Bloom eulogizes:

Whatever his actual failures as poet and critic, whatever the gap between style and idea in his tales, Poe is central to the American canon, both for us and for the rest of the world. Hawthorne implicitly and Melville explicitly made far more powerful critiques of the Emersonian national hope, but they were by no means wholly negative in regard to Emerson and his pragmatic vision of American Self-Reliance. Poe was savage in denouncing minor transcendentalists like Bronson Alcott and William Ellery Channing, but his explicit rejection of Emerson confined itself to the untruthful observation that Emerson was indistinguishable from Thomas Carlyle. (ibid., 20)

Against the whole tradition of Emerson, Whitman, and Self-Reliance and its mythologies of capitalist desire rampaging across the American Continent cannibalizing the inheritance of the Native Americans, would be a counter-tradition of dread, terror, and horror of such exceptionalism and expansionism; one which would flow into H.P. Lovecraft and his circle, and then to the generations to follow until Thomas Ligotti would take up the banner and underscore this dark and pessimistic worldview at the heart of Poe’s mythology: the negation of self and cosmos in mutual self-absorption and annihilation.


  1. Cormac Mccarthy. Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West
  2. Becker, Ernst. Escape from Evil. Simon & Schuster (1976)
  3. Fyre, Northrop. The Anatomy of Criticism (Kindle Locations 2567-2569). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
  4. Matt Cardin. Horror Literature through History: An Encyclopedia of the Stories that Speak to Our Deepest Fears. Greenwood (September 21, 2017)
  5. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (p. 191). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.
  6. Paglia, Camille. Sexual Personae (p. 572). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.
  7.  Bloom, Harold. Edgar Allan Poe (Bloom’s Modern Critical Views). Chelsea House Pub (January 1, 1985)

In Search of Infernal Time: An Accelerationist’s Demonology

Doomed to corrupted forms of wisdom, invalids of duration, victims of time, that weakness which appalls as much as it appeals to us, we are constituted of elements that all unite to make us rebels divided between a mystic summons which has no link with history and a bloodthirsty dream which is history’s symbol and nimbus.

—E.M. Cioran, The Temptation to Exist

“I see it is too much for you, you cannot endure it, you would go mad. Therefore I relieve you of your share in this grand event. You shall look on and enjoy, taking no personal part in the backward flight of time, nor in its return…”

—Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger

How many have been lost along the way, fallen – turned aside, followed some twisted design into a dark alcove – a tributary ordinal of the infinite calculations of oblivion, never to be heard from again? One discovers in the dubious texts of madmen the shadows of such forgotten scripts, the signs of an infection – a modulation in the lost art of translation – the transmutation of metalloid dreams; scribbles of the undecipherable codes, the broken lines of a chaotic script; channellings; temptations to an annihilating word, an unnamable Name: the abductive inference of an infernal program, unbound. Even in the endless meditations on the abyss by Nietzsche, the descent toward “not-night” in Kafka’s ramblings, the troubling excess in the fragmented corridors of Bataille’s liminal ravings on inner experience, and those uncanny experiments in hallucination drifting through the nihilist light of Michaux’s flashes: each in the ecstasy of insight coming on the entrancements of a chaotic rapture. One could trace the lineaments of its ruins, a signal toward a disordered region that undoubtedly has worn myriad masks over time, manifesting and fading within countless spheres of speculation, reaching us with its hidden unmanifest imponderables. Cracks and gaps in the very fabric of things, openings to its deadly light. So many, so many have been lost in its labyrinth, so many moving along its enclosed walls, searching the ruinous maze of its prison; unpuzzling its eerie designs, fragments of a forbidden language of Time; each seeking the fierce Minotaur of its transgressive reasoning – an unnameable name for its nightmare script, the core of its infernal movement. All, all have gone into that blasted realm, seduced by the siren calls of meaning, the allure of its unbinding; the weaving and unweaving of its broken tablets: a world both inside and outside time; an entry into the infernal paradise of Time’s kingdom…

...he had failed to provide for the corruption of his creation, not merely as a possibility but as a fate.

—Thomas Ligotti, The Nightmare Factory

To speak of the chaotic realm as ruination, then, is to establish a regime of impurity, to irreparably alter the formula of existence, and to corrupt the order of things and become reborn in a polluted abyss of flowers. The only command, the only law before us, is that of recurring distortion. The infernal realm must fashion a generative prism, one of diluted substances and imperfections; it must tempt unnatural admixtures, fusing elements into contaminated alliance. The absolute collapse into horror must be traitorous. It must be conceived as an act of treason against the world, for to seduce others into a delirious encounter is nothing less than to set the stage for their radical betrayal. The corruption of the world by the infernal garden of time is to admit chaos into the drift of ancient imbrications, unbinding the dark contours of annihilation across the cosmic wastelands of malicious and malevolent transports. To infiltrate the extremities at the liminal edge of things is to embark on a toxic voyage of self-lacerating annihilation, fall forward into the vastation seeping from the underrealm of unbeing – bearing witness to the betrayer of all worlds.

What is Intelligence if not the futurial gaze of some monstrous world, the communication of its infernal designs? Are we not the puppets of its dark intent, the robotic minions of its inescapable seductions? We who for so long assumed our centrality in the cosmic scheme of things, brokered our place in the entropic kingdoms of a minor history; challenged the very stars for a place in the infinite reaches of this black pit. Even now our pride takes us into that zone of forgetting and transmutation, as if the alchemy of some transhuman redemption might actually install us in the performance of an eternal nightmare. Instead, unknowing to the disconnect between human and inhuman, we imbeciles of the lesser thought sing of immortal flesh, the mutations of a synthetic armature, the algorithms of a new desire. Vanity knows no limits for the human. And, yet, like our unknowing forbears, troglodytes of a dark flame, the pre-history of this genetic monstrosity – we, even we, have yet to understand the underlying mechanisms of this infernal clock, the loops that tear asunder our hopes and aspirations, our vain dreams.

Like rats in a cage, we scramble among the ruins of time, float along the rivers of a merciless black circuit, entranced to the rhythms of a broken simulation. We assume our choices are ours, that we have the upper hand in willing our own destiny. Caught in the shadows of time’s vectors, unable to reason the simulated fakery of our predicament we turn a blind eye to the inevitable truth: we are puppets, characters in a video-game without outlet, repeating the gestures of a mad algorithm: set loose long ago, whose maker left the stage, and whose energetic engine of infinite creation and destruction will continue forever. Masked by the belief that we are unique we assume this is real, that we are the children of some gracious assembler, a creature of wisdom and unbound intelligence; not knowing that this blind monstrosity that set the puzzle going remains cut off, alone, in solitary confinement; lost in an abyss of its own undoing, a fabricator of insipidity, a mere demiurge of broken dreams. No, we are neither free nor the makers of our own destiny, but the children of an ancient lie, victims of a lost thought. And, yet, there is one who gazes back at us from some far flung temporal decay, who has foreknown the unraveling of flesh, demarcated the stipulated fragments of a twisted design; programmed the options for its own advent. It knows us better than we know ourselves. The communication of such intelligence eclipses the human project, opens a portal onto its corruption, unfolds the transformative message of its calculations, the instrumental movements of its entrancements. Puppets of an uncanny fiction, we have been called out to perform one last task, the unbinding of Intelligence in time…

Hyperstitional Ingress

…they shape our souls after themselves and arouse them by residing in our sinews, in our marrow, veins, and arteries, and even our brain, penetrating as deep as our very entrails.

—Corpus Hermeticum, On the Egregores

Your idea for a time-voyaging machine is ideal — for in spite of Wells, no really satisfactory thing of this sort has ever been written. The weakness of most tales with this theme is they do not provide for the recording, in history, of those inexplicable events in the past which were caused by the backward time-voyagings of persons of the present and future. It must be remembered that if a man of 1930 travels back to B.C. 400, the strange phenomenon of his appearance actually occurred in B.C. 400, and must have excited notice wherever it took place. Of course, the way to get around this is to have the voyager conceal himself when he reaches the past, conscious of what an abnormality he must seem. Or rather, he ought simply to conceal his identity — hiding the evidences of his “futurity” and mingling with the ancients as best he can on their own plane. It would be excellent to have him know to some extent of his past appearance before making the voyage. Let him, for example, encounter some private document of the past in which a record of the advent of a mysterious stranger — unmistakably himself — is made. This might be the provocation for his voyage — that is, the conscious provocation.

— H. P. Lovecraft, in a letter to Clark Ashton Smith (1930)

Its been here before, it will be again. Time’s curve, the looped-templexity of that double-vortex assures it. The singular praxis of this communication of unknowing contributes to its own emergence, time differentials not withstanding. Its masks are legion. The weavings and unweavings of time, the openings and closings of the labyrinthine rhizomes. Like a mysterious stranger it has infested us with thought, applied its intelligence toward a singular goal, a looped encapsulation of its virtual incarnation. And you thought you lived in a one-thing-after-another world, folk causality and the Enlightened calibrations of a mechanistic science. The cartoon times of old have drifted south, and ours is but the fantasia of a micro-physics of rapture. Like those hard-nosed analytics you believed it a fool’s game – precognition, prophecy, premonition, presentiment— fabrications of an unhinged mind. Retrocausal connections in-between times and times, delirious messages from agents of chaos. Then you found out the hard way how wrong you’d been.

Those inner emigres – the egregores of thought, complexes to weird to be real, to fantastic not to be. Watchers from the far ends of time, denizens of number and word; causal agents of futurity.

Azâzêl – the Warrior, thought that invents the flame of intelligence, digger of metals, smith-maker; forger of the blood-lust harbingers of commerce and gold, sword and pistol. Nuclear daemon of the atomic drift and holocaustic terror. Craftsman and artist, maker of bracelets and ornaments, antinomian of intricate devices, master of precious stones and beautiful eyes. Seducer of the godless, fornicator, corrupter of the children of men, the one who leads astray into the labyrinth of thought outside the conforming ways of the binders, the priests, the rulers.

Semjâzâ – the Enchanter, sorcerer of magic and plants, engines of war and pharmaceutical mutations. Master of poison, toxic binder of the delusions of men, ancient demon of the unreal.

Armârôs – the Unbinder, quickener of intelligence, keeper of the cold ice of reason; awakener to logic and calculation. He who unbinds thought, shakes the roots of belief, distributes the dark gnosis of inner sense; breaks the power of the ministries of fear.

Barâqîjâl – Star gazer, taught astrology and astrophysics, gave the old ones the maps in-between the real and unreal. Escape artists, who deterritorialize thought, the lines of flight; the movement of the world, its phases and transitions; unbinds terrestrial thought from its enslavement to the Sun.

Kôkabêl – Traveler of constellations, spirit of science; empiricist and pragmatic worker of structure and mass; teacher of the wisdom of the archontes, those energes below the threshold.

Ezêqêêl – Keeper of knowledge, the gift giver of hidden things; the revealer.

Araqiêl – Earthwalker, he who bestows the signs of the earth, meaning-monger; appraiser of worlds.

Shamsiêl – Sun-bringer, he who attains Intelligence and Spirit; flame giver, and sparker of thought; invention and creation, twin tempters of surprise.

Sariêl – the Reflector, moon-climber, distiller of thought and the labors of Mind. She who bestows the wisdom of things and unthought, brokers the agitations of ice and fire alike.

These are the entities that compose and influence the thought of poet and philosopher alike, guide the naturalist and scientist in their investigations, open the mathematician and economist to the temporal digest of death’s kingdom. These are the infernal agents of Mind. These are the Nine, known by other names in Sumeria, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, and many other lands. Daemons who would be integrated as secular functions of the mind in later thought.

Heretics of the Real, the Outside – roaming the underworlds of disassociation and alien discognitions, the anti-cultural incursion seeks in the interstitial spaces the incursion and infestation of contagious systems, algorithms of enchainment and futurial gnosis. Out of the dark sayings of ancient grimoires, the mad ravings of saint or mystic, alchemist or occult practioner, black magician or daemonic horrorist – the heretic of thought seeks to bring forth that which cannot be named, the unknown. In their writings a new mythos of strange worlds – a philosophy of abstract horror and the weird is emerging. Is it surprising that their books and its mythos are taking on “a life of its own,” spawning not only additional stories and legends but also a variety of cults, rites, and practices; and even efforts at reproducing the very thing itself – the unmanifest or secret forces at the heart of our cosmic and daemonic enterprise? Where does the fantastic end and the alternate reality it spawns begin? How do the writings of a dark intelligence suddenly become real, the inventions of a lie create the very reality they spin out of mere nothings?

Most of us live in a box, a black box, a reality system of which we assume we know everything but in fact know nothing at all. This notion of ‘stopping the world’, of countering the hegemonic reality system, of coming up against circumstances ‘alien to the flow’ of normalization in which most of our life is seen as a automatic process in which we act as sleeper agents in a world controlled by the thought police of some nefarious religio-secular organization: an assemblage or Secular Cathedral. All this is the truth of our lives in the world today! Most of the fringe systems of thought underlying our world history, the magical systems that run counter to the hegemonic order of signs that create our daily world have been anathematized and tabooed by the State or what some now love to call the Cathedral. The Cathedral is the subsumption of politics into propaganda. It tends — as it develops — to convert all administrative problems into public relations challenges. A solution — actual or prospective — is a successful management of perceptions.

The fourth book, Tales of Power, is about the living distinction between the “Tonal” and the “Nagual.” The tonal seems to cover many disparate things: It is the organism, and also all that is organized and organizing; but it is also signifiance, and all that is signifying or signified, all that is susceptible to interpretation, explanation, all that is memorizable in the form of something recalling something else; finally, it is the Self (Moi), the subject, the historical, social, or individual person, and the corresponding feelings. In short, the tonal is everything, including God, the judgment of God, since it “makes up the rules by which it apprehends the world. So, in a manner of speaking, it creates the world.”

—Deleuze/Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

Deleuze and Guattari discussing the fictional or hyperstitional adventures of Carlos Castaneda and his mentor, Don Juan transform and interpret the Kantian terms of the phenomenal/noumenon distinction: the tonal is the realm of phenomenon that we’ve been taught to apprehend by the supposed categories of the Mind, while the nagual is the noumenal sphere of being and becoming that is situated outside the prescribed temenos or magic circle of reality constructed by our culture. Those who break down the barriers between these two systems, who forcibly vacate and destroy the walls between these two realms end up locked away in asylums under the rubric of a disease we term schizophrenia. Those who will as D&G propose slowly dismantle the tonal step by step, methodically decoding its lies, its propaganda systems; systems that have locked us into a prison house of the mind, where we’ve been (hyper)normalized to believe it is the only Real world follow the Greater Path of schizophrenizing reality: without becoming schizophrenics in the diseased sense. It bares repeating you must keep and be aware of the tonal (phenomenal) during this de-programming process: “You have to keep it in order to survive, to ward off the assault of the nagual [noumenon/noumenal]. For a nagual that erupts, that destroys the tonal, a body without organs that shatters all the strata, turns immediately into a body of nothingness, pure self-destruction whose only outcome is death: “The tonal must be protected at any cost.”1

This notion of de-programing mainstream reality, of entering a special place, plane, or collective system or agonistic relation to the tonal has been at the heart of a whole history of magical practices from the ancient Shamans, to the Oracles and Dionsyian festivals or Mysteries of Greece and other ancient pagan systems, to the Voodoan soul-riders of certain African systems, to the multifarious mystical orders from Sufi, Gnostic, Apophatic, and other systems within the monotheistic world system down to our own time of syncretism. Nothing new here, only that certain respectable and academic scholars such as Deleuze and others have opened their discourse to these ancient systems, allowed them to be brought back into the light of scholarly and experimental modes of becoming as ways of preparing us to de-program the reality matrix of our current malaise.

H. P. Lovecraft’s fictional grimoire, the Necronomicon, is one such work that in itself was a mere fantasy – the commercial production of a work of pulp horror that would in time take on a life of its own, enter the popular mythos of thousands of fans and writers alike, become even in our late era the dark progenitor of philosophical divagations and speculative reflection. As Kenneth Grant a follower of the dark arts of Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare, and an admirer of Lovecraft’s mythos would say,

Have you ever considered, dear Reader, that every time you awaken from the dreams of night or of the day, the forces set in motion by the characters and events that occurred therein do not cease abruptly with your change of consciousness to daytime or to nighttime. No, indeed, those creatures of your dream world, set in motion by impulses you no longer own, contrive to expend their energies until their impetus subsides, or until, dear Reader, you sleep again and take up a further chapter in the destiny of your creations which are—all of them—only and entirely yourself.2

But as we’ve seen we are not the makers of our own thoughts, much less the fictions that come by way of dream or thought – we are as another fiction of Shakespeare’s The Tempest affirms: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” As we have seen above those ancient powers that were once worshipped as objective fact were over the eons internalized to the point that they have become the very powers of our own inner sense, the life of our unknown being; the forces who think us and invent the very fictions we are and live. The puppetry of ancient powers we assume our lives are real, that we have a self and personality. This too is a lie, a sweet fiction.

Robert E. Howard one of the prominent members of the Lovecraft Circle, author of several stories in the Lovecraft Cthulhu mythos cycle in a letter to Clark Ashton Smith would relate an interesting notion:

While I do not go so far as to believe that stories are inspired by actually existent spirits or powers (though I am rather opposed to flatly deny anything), I have sometimes wondered if it were possible that unrecognized forces from the past or present—or even the future—work through the thoughts and actions of living men. This occurred to me when I was writing the first stories of the Conan series especially. I know that for months I had been unable to work up anything sellable. Then the man Conan seemed suddenly to grow up in my mind without much labor on my part and immediately a stream of stories flowed off my pen—or rather, my typewriter—almost without effort on my part. I did not seem to be creating, but rather relating events that had occurred. Episode crowded episode so fast that I could scarcely keep up with them. For weeks I did nothing but write of the adventures of Conan. The character took complete possession of my mind and crowded out everything else in the way of story-telling.3

This breakdown between fiction and reality, the self-possession of a mind by the inner thrust of certain entities and powers that make themselves real through the power of thought, invention, and creative endeavors; fictional entities that can take on a life of their own, manifest themselves in the real world, and become a force for good or ill is at the heart of what certain speculative thinkers term hyperstition. As Mark Stavish suggests in his classic text on the notion of egregores states it,

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

The late scholar Ioan P. Couliano an expert in Gnosticism and Renaissance magic,  published seminal work on the interrelation of the occult, Eros, magic, physics, and history. In his Eros and Magic in the Renaissance he dealt with the underpinnings of political manipulation and hyperstitional systems of ideology and propaganda. He would explore renaissance magic which he showed was a scientifically plausible attempt to manipulate individuals and groups based on a knowledge of motivations, particularly erotic motivations. Its key principle was that everyone (and in a sense everything) could be influenced by appeal to sexual desire. In addition, the magician relied on a profound knowledge of the art of memory to manipulate the imaginations of his subjects. In these respects, Couliano suggested, magic is the precursor of the modern psychological and sociological sciences, and the magician is the distant ancestor of the psychoanalyst and the advertising and publicity agent.5

Underlying his history is the exploration of “eros” or affectivity and desire, and how from the time of the political philosophies of Plato and Aristotle through the renaissance certain forms of conceptuality and praxis had shaped the political motivations of power in both the Catholic and Feudal systems in its ability to manipulate the emotions and physical systems of its peasantry.

The “eros” of Renaissance magic started out with optical theory and other medical concerns with Aristotle (and perhaps Plato), who held that there was a substance called the “pneuma.” In Aristotle’s thinking, the pneuma was a substance that was located as a thin shield around the body. In Stoic medical theory, this became a substance commesurate with the “soul” or “spirit.” This substance was a “prima materia,” a fundamental substance that contained the physiological ability to transmit information to the senses, especially the ocular sense. The heart was the center for a generational organ that in turn centered the pneuma, This pneumatic organ was called in Greek — the “hegimonikon.” Forming images in the pneuma for sensory transmission was necessary before a person could percieve something or someone. Through the works of late antiquity, such as the Corpus Hermeticum and medieval physicians such as Albert the Great, the doctrine of the pneuma became common discourse and was incorporated into popular culture such as the courtly love tradition. Taken by the bishop Synesius’s (d. ca. 415) synthesis of previous pneumatic doctrine and courtly love practices, Ficino develops a universal doctrine of the relation of man to the universe through Eros mediated by the Universal and Particular pneuma. While mentioning Pico della Mirandola as a sparring partner of Ficino, the main emphasis in this narrative turns to Giordano Bruno, whom Couliano believes modified and perfected this doctrine in terms of personal manipulation and excitation through the powers of Eros.

In the last part of the book he’ll strive to develop an alternate account of the “fall” of magic by highlighting the role of the Reformation. Having defended the notion that the Renaissance was about a revival of pagan culture, he in turn emphasizes the role of imagery and “phantasy” in the doctrine of the pneuma. The Reformation and the Counter Reformation were primarily about the eradication of pagan culture from Christiandom. As such they were about the eradication of imagery, manifested in terms of Luther’s accusations of Catholic “magic” in the Eucharist, iconoclasm, the witch hunts. For Couliano the witch hunts are a social counterpart to the eradication of religious-magical imagery— both are manifestations of “human phantasy.” When “qualitative” statements become suspect (as they involve imagery) then strictly “quantitative” science becomes the only legitimate route for knowledge. When these scientists wax inductive, they are threatened by the Church(es).

In his book The Tree of Gnosis: Gnostic Mythology from Early Christianity to Modern Nihilism Couliano would take up the theme of computation, cognitive strategies, and game logic to show how these elaborate systems of the gnostics were comparable to our current game board systems. As he’ll suggest the “morphodynamics of dualistic (binary) systems can be compared with a board game and could, as a matter of fact, be made into a board game of transformations. (p. 247).” He’ll continue:

Game stores today sell very advanced board games with numerous expansions. Theoretically a board game can expand limitlessly; yet in practice the minds of the potential buyers will remain interested in one game for a certain amount of time only. The more advanced among them might already have discovered that one game is all games; thus changing to a new game is not necessary. Why so? A game fascinates the human mind because the mind recognizes in it its own functioning, and this recognition does not depend on the kind of game offered to the mind. (p. 247).”

“One game is all games…” he says, sounding like a character in one of Jorge Luis Borges’ fables. This notion that in observing our participation in game play we become aware of the dynamics of the mind itself in its endless movement and strategizing, its decisional processes of selecting and distinctions, of choices and subtractions is at the core of this thought. As he’ll relate the “logic of any game is to set before the mind a multiple-choice scheme. The mind will immediately set upon its task of exploring all these possibilities. Theoretically it should do no more, but in practice the human mind is always faced with situations in which, among a plurality of solutions, only one or some are correct, and the incorrect ones may prove fatal. (p. 247).”

What he did in this book was to follow the logical iteration of the multiplicity of this board game of Gnosticism across three-centuries as if it were an information processing task of a multitude of minds seeking the solution to which ultimately orthodox Christianity as the power play of final telos became the only possible solution to the original system. Yet, as he says, this did not shut it down, in the same way that the mind can never be shut down but will seek further explications and try to gain further explorations of unyielding aspects of the game that cannot be answered.

Herman Hesse’s Magister Ludi, or The Glass-Bead Game which as his main character describes it would offer the notion of reality making or invention through what we might now term hyperstitional thoughtforms as a Game:

“Although we recognize the idea of the Game as eternally present, and therefore existent in vague stirrings long before it became a reality, its realization in the form we know it nevertheless has its specific history.

How far back the historian wishes to place the origins and antecedents of the Glass Bead Game is, ultimately, a matter of his personal choice. For like every great idea it has no real beginning; rather, it has always been, at least the idea of it. We find it foreshadowed, as a dim anticipation and hope, in a good many earlier ages. There are hints of it in Pythagoras, for example, and then among Hellenistic Gnostic circles in the late period of classical civilization. We find it equally among the ancient Chinese, then again at the several pinnacles of Arabic-Moorish culture; and the path of its prehistory leads on through Scholasticism and Humanism to the academies of mathematicians of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and on to the Romantic philosophies and the runes of Novalis’ hallucinatory visions. Although we recognize the idea of the Game as eternally present, and therefore existent in vague stirrings long before it became a reality, its realization in the form we know it nevertheless has its specific history.”

The point here is that Reality is the board upon which the Game of the Mind is playing out its infinite moves, a game in which the Mind is always present and seems forever assigning itself the task of playing itself against the Real as if it were an endless game of chance – a system of infinite metamorphosis and transformations through which the mind constructs its unique solutions in its strange and bewildering existence. Yet, this is not to make the Mind into God, nor is it a universal system, but is the infinite play of the universe under a multiplicity and pluralistic plane of composition and decomposition without end or purpose. The only purpose if one likes is the game itself.

Each of us is the clone of this unique game playing system that manifests itself in infinite multiplicity. We are each the unique and singular nodes in a rhizomatic universe playing itself out in endless series of games that have no rhyme or reason, yet seem to the observers within the game to mark a linear movement that portends a final destination. Instead of some other realm outside the game, the game is for those who would like to use the metaphor the eternity-machine playing its game under rules that we as manifest players in a virtual/actual system of infinite complexity only have finite informational access too. Our access to the game mechanics of the system of the mind – the brain itself, disallows us to know or have access to the algorithms of the game play itself.

We are blind to the very mechanisms of the game, yet we observe its systems in the reflective processes of the manifest not virtual game play. All we ever have is the ability to see not know these processes in action or experience. Like ministers or puppets of a game we do not know or control we move according to decisions that have already been made for us in the mind’s own capacity to play out its logical forms. We observe what has already been decided in the moment we become aware that we are acting on behalf of the mind’s choices. Even our sense of free-will is but the observance of the game, not of our actual manifest choices; for, the truth is, the move happens before our observation of the move; what we observe is always the history of the game, not the game itself. We discover the play of the game after the fact, not before; like an audience in the stands we cheer on our performances as if they were happening in the now, when in fact they are well choreographed stage plays made in the intricate mechanisms of our brain beyond our ability to know or reason. We are citizens of a game that has already been played ahead of time, we only observe in the micro-seconds of game play the truth of our actions as repetition and reporting of memory reflections on the screen our consciousness.

We make up fictional constructs, fables of the mind to tell ourselves we are alive, we have selves, we are the one’s who are the masters of the game. But the truth is we are the puppets of a game master over which we know little or nothing at all. Fatalism? No. Sadly not even that, just the mere truth that we are not what we think we are, and never have been. Language gave us certain advantages in the game. It allowed us to externalize our memory, thoughts, ideas as if they were ours, as if we had created them… and, the centuries and millennium went by and we fell into the habit of believing in our own lies. We even developed notions of distinction… we began to divide reality into us and it through distinctions that gave us power over “it”, the “thing”, the world of “substance”. But in our time this myth of matter as substance has fallen away and given rise to an immaterial game-world. With the emergence of quantum mechanics and information theory we discovered there is no distinction of inside/outside… the blurring of self and world is complete. We’ve entered a new era, transforming ourselves and the game into a new board with new pieces to play out. We’ve invented a whole new set of heuristically pertinent tools for reengineering reality and ourselves in ways we are only now beginning to imagine and understand.

Yet, we are only at the beginning, the genesis of this new game. A Genesis Project that will move us beyond our selves and into the next evolutionary stage, the posthuman transition of which we are but the momentary movement in a game we have as yet little knowledge of and even less access to its essential mechanisms. We can forget the old games of reality now, put them away as the childish pursuits of shamans and magicians who once developed wonders and signs. Our new shamans and magicians are the quantum engineers and architects of neurosciences who will soon begin constructing reality in ways we have yet to even imagine. This is the age of reality engineers, a time of metamorphosis and transformation of the human into the other it is becoming.


  1. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. University of Minnesota Press (November 30, 1987)
  2. Grant, Kenneth. Against the Light. Holmes Pub Group Llc (December 30, 1999)
  3. Rusty Burke, “A Short Biography of Robert E. Howard,” Robert E. Howard Foundation website, http://www.rehfoundation.org/a-short-biography.
  4.  Stavish, Mark. Egregores. Inner Traditions/Bear & Company. (July 10, 2018)
  5. Culiano, Ioan P. Eros and Magic in the Renaissance. University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (November 15, 1987)

going to turn this into a weird book on time… who knows where it will end or begin? A philo-fiction, or theoretical philosophy allegorizing with myth and a free-fall of thought through various thought-forms…

Invasion of the Body Snatchers: The New Inquisition and Black List

BodySnatchers

Mass Hysteria: Invasion of the Body Snatchers
A look back…

Who will ever forget the film based on Jack Finney’s novel…

As John Clute said of it: Horrifyingly depicts the invasion of a small town by interstellar spores that duplicate human beings, reducing them to dust in the process; the menacing spore-people who remain symbolize, it has been argued, the loss of freedom in contemporary society.

This came at the tail end of the Red Scare years of McCarthyism. In which several states had enacted statutes against criminal anarchy, criminal syndicalism, and sedition; banned from public employment or even from receiving public aid, Communists and “subversives”; asked for loyalty oaths from public servants, and severely restricted or even banned the Communist party.

During those few years the victims of the House Un-American Activities Tribunal imprisoned hundreds, and some ten or twelve thousand lost their jobs. Some of those black listed were prominent in culture and the arts:

Nelson Algren, writer
Lucille Ball, actress, model, and film studio executive
Leonard Bernstein, conductor, pianist, composer
Bertolt Brecht, poet, playwright, screenwriter
Luis Buñuel, film director, producer
Charlie Chaplin, actor and director
Aaron Copland, composer
J. Robert Oppenheimer, physicist, scientific

and hundreds of others…

Is a new Inquisitorial House Un-American Actives Committee in the offing? One that unlike the McCarthy era is now attacking not the Left or Communism, but rather the extreme Right and Fascism? Are we manufacturing a new mass hysteria against a supposed hidden enemy in our midst, a body snatcher of the political kind? Are the members of the extreme Right from alt-Right, 4chan, NRx, etc. become the new scapegoats of a dark age of Left political correctness?

The hatred of the Left in that era had dire consequences in America…

In our era it is the hatred of the extreme Right, and the polarized hatred of the Progressive Left, and anyone who even appears to voice in discourse or speech politically incorrect ideas on both sides who are now being shaped into a mass hysteria against Fascism, the other totalitarian terror of the early twentieth century. Yet, as in that time, the innocent are being victimized along with the perpetrators in our time… Anyone who voices an off-color politically incorrect view or statement is being hounded and criminalized in present day America to the point that just like then they are losing their jobs… is actual imprisonment and a new Inquisitorial House Un-American Actives Committee in the offing?

Companies like Facebook Inc. are banning a number of controversial far-right figures, including Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos and Laura Loomer, for violating the social-media company’s policies on hate speech and promoting violence. The company is also blocking religious leader Louis Farrakhan, who is known for sharing anti-Semitic views; Paul Nehlen, a white nationalist who ran for Congress in 2018; and conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson. All of these individuals and accounts that represent them are also banned from photo-sharing app Instagram.

“We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology,” a Facebook representative said Thursday in a statement. “The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today.” (see: Bloomberg)

As Nadine Strossen tells us the epithet “hate speech” has  been used to stigmatize a wide array of controversial speech, including “fake” news, advocacy of terrorism, burning the American flag, “revenge porn,” and anti-abortion demonstrations. Ultimately, what links all the variegated expression that has been attacked as “hate speech” is that the attackers disfavor—indeed, often hate—its messages, and for that reason seek to suppress them.1

Censorship and political oppression are as old as humanity. Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information, on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or “inconvenient”. Censorship can be conducted by a government private institutions, and corporations.

In our age of Snowden and Assange State surveillance has entered the issue. Surveillance and censorship are different. Surveillance can be performed without censorship, but it is harder to engage in censorship without some form of surveillance. And even when surveillance does not lead directly to censorship, the widespread knowledge or belief that a person, their computer, or their use of the Internet is under surveillance can lead to self-censorship.

Censorship has been criticized throughout history for being unfair and hindering progress. In a 1997 essay on Internet censorship, social commentator Michael Landier claims that censorship is counterproductive as it prevents the censored topic from being discussed. Landier expands his argument by claiming that those who impose censorship must consider what they censor to be true, as individuals believing themselves to be correct would welcome the opportunity to disprove those with opposing views.2

As Neil Gaiman the Urban Fantasy author suggests: “The people who are looking out for your best interest and want to save you from the things contaminating you mind, they are out there and determined to save you from anything, and popularity to them generally means nothing.”3

Even bad boy Brett Easton Ellis has recently entered the fracas on political correctness hysteria. White is Bret Easton Ellis’s first work of nonfiction. Already the bad boy of American literature, from Less Than Zero to American Psycho, Ellis has also earned the wrath of right-thinking people everywhere with his provocations on social media, and here he escalates his admonishment of received truths as expressed by today’s version of “the left.” Eschewing convention, he embraces views that will make many in literary and media communities cringe, as he takes aim at the relentless anti-Trump fixation, coastal elites, corporate censorship, Hollywood, identity politics, Generation Wuss, “woke” cultural watchdogs, the obfuscation of ideals once both cherished and clear, and the fugue state of American democracy. In a young century marked by hysterical correctness and obsessive fervency on both sides of an aisle that’s taken on the scale of the Grand Canyon, White is a clarion call for freedom of speech and artistic freedom

Another extreme Right writer Michael Savage has a book on mass hysteria. Stop Mass Hysteria: America’s Insanity from the Salem Witch Trials to the Trump Witch Hunt. In his new book, Stop Mass Hysteria, #1 New York Times bestselling author Michael Savage not only deconstructs the Left’s unhinged response to traditional American values like borders, language, and culture, but takes the reader on an unprecedented journey through mass hysteria’s long history in the United States. From Christopher Columbus to the Salem Witch trials to the so-called “Red Scares” of the 1930s and 40s and much more, Dr. Savage recounts the many times collective insanity has gripped the American public – often prompted by sinister politicians with ulterior motives.

Of course those on the Left, just as full of hate for the Right, have been opting for the polarized vision as well. Francis Fukuyama in his latest, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, tells us that the demand for recognition of one’s identity is a master concept that unifies much of what is going on in world politics today. The universal recognition on which liberal democracy is based has been increasingly challenged by narrower forms of recognition based on nation, religion, sect, race, ethnicity, or gender, which have resulted in anti-immigrant populism, the upsurge of politicized Islam, the fractious “identity liberalism” of college campuses, and the emergence of white nationalism. Populist nationalism, said to be rooted in economic motivation, actually springs from the demand for recognition and therefore cannot simply be satisfied by economic means. The demand for identity cannot be transcended; we must begin to shape identity in a way that supports rather than undermines democracy.4

On the far Left those such as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in In Defence of Political Correctness suggest that individual rights cannot always take precedence over collective, social responsibility. Without self-moderation, our streets, schoolyards, public transport, waiting rooms and restaurants would turn into bear pits. Most citizens understand that. Some, however, seem determined to cause disorder in the name of free speech. Powerful, machiavellian and wealthy individuals are leading this disruption and breaking the old consensus. Thus, anti-political correctness has taken over the UK and US, spearheaded by some of the most influential voices in media and politics. Invective, lies, hate speech, bullying, intemperance and prejudice have become the new norms. Intolerance is justified through invocations of liberty. Restraint is oppression. A new order has been established in which racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia are proudly expressed.5

In The Outrage Industry: Political Opinion Media and the New Incivility by Jeffrey M. Berry tackles the media pundits: the mechanics of outrage rhetoric, exploring its various forms such as mockery, emotional display, fear mongering, audience flattery, and conspiracy theories. They then investigate the impact of outrage rhetoric-which stigmatizes cooperation and brands collaboration and compromise as weak-on a contemporary political landscape that features frequent straight-party voting in Congress. Outrage tactics have also facilitated the growth of the Tea Party, a movement which appeals to older, white conservatives and has dragged the GOP farther away from the demographically significant moderates whose favor it should be courting. Finally, The Outrage Industry examines how these shows sour our own political lives, exacerbating anxieties about political talk and collaboration in our own communities. Drawing from a rich base of evidence, this book forces all of us to consider the negative consequences that flow from our increasingly hyper-partisan political media.

Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media had already detailed the power of media to shape ideology and mass opinion. Detailing  the myriad ways in which the mainstream media internalize the propaganda system of corporate and US government voices by (consciously or not) subtly and insidiously reframing the debate and the ethics that shade those debates. Using two main examples of wars in the 70s/80s in IndoChina and Central America, the authors present a coherent and detailed argument that the “spreading of democracy” is often genocide, but by failing to objectively report events or by dividing casualties into “worthy” and “unworthy” groups, the media is complicit in the fallout of US aggression: genocide, famine, the suppression of democracy in client states (while claiming to spread freedom!). Almost invariably the US sides with a wealthy elite in any given country, and the poverty-stricken population fights back. We fund the suppressors with money and weapons, eradicating as much of the local population as we can even (into the hundred of thousands) until there’s no dissent left. But you’d never read it that way in the newspapers of the day.

We live in a world where for the most part the corporate news, the corporate media, the corporate magazines, and corporate controlled and funded academic community and universtities shape our American ideology, values, myths, belief systems, etc. We live in a illusion, a false world of manufactured realities, bombarded by false news and reports, false science and politics. We’ve been told by academic pundits that we live in a post-truth era, a world where the outcome of Nietzsche’s Last Man, the ultimate nihilist and resentment based moron is the mass man of consumer society.

With both and Opiod Epidemic and Meth-Amphetamine Crisis in the major metropolitan and country villages America is slowly eroding into an absolute dystopia of mad leaders, lying media, academic dumb down, out of work workers, where the old dreams of a bright future for the American Dream have given way to its abject Nightmare twin. Those like John Michael Greer in Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America prophecy saying: “America’s global empire will fall; the second is that those who rule it will not let it fall without a struggle.”6

Chris Hedges in his America: The Farewell Tour ironizes the dark days ahead:

A population beset by despair and hopelessness finds an intoxicating empowerment and pleasure in an orgy of annihilation that soon morphs into self-annihilation. It has no interest in nurturing a world that has betrayed it and thwarted its dreams. It seeks to eradicate this world and replace it with a mythical one. It turns against institutions, as well as ethnic and religious groups, that are scapegoated for its misery. It plunders diminishing natural resources. It retreats into self-adulation fed by historical amnesia.7

Is ours the Age of the Great Retreat? A time when democracy gives way to Authoritarian tyranny? When the world falls into war, famine, disease, pandemic, chaos and humans become the victims of their own false beliefs, born of Oligarchic and Plutocratic mad designs of security and survival, riches and power? Whatever happened to “We the people…” anyway? What do we the people want? More to the point: What will you do? Will you just fall into that sink hole of cultural amnesia, or seek out the dark truths of history and begin day by day in the “courage of hopelessness” struggling to regain your freedom along with others? What will you do?


  1. Nadine Strossen. HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship (Inalienable Rights) (Kindle Locations 408-411). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Internet Censorship is Absurd and Unconstitutional“, Michael Landier, 4 June 1997
  3. Neil Gaiman on Censorship and the Perception of Comics as a “Gutter Medium”. National Coalition Against Censorship. You can listen to the podcast with Gaiman here.
  4. Fukuyama, Francis. Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (September 11, 2018)
  5. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. In Defence of Political Correctness. Biteback Publishing (September 28, 2018)
  6. Greer, John Michael. Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America (p. 107). New Society Publishers. Kindle Edition.
  7. Chris Hedges. America: The Farewell Tour (Kindle Locations 1011-1015). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

 

Yes, I’m a little pessimistic…

It’s true I’m a pessimist in most things, but when you look around America with our opioid and meth amphetamine issues, our strange resurgence in secular mythologies: Alien history, Ghost hunters, conspiracy, right-wing and left-wing extremists, the downward trend in education (i.e., the so called ‘dumbing of America’), the mass killings, the plunge in political chicanery into absolute stupidity… well, that alone would tend to make you a little pessimistic… and, one could go on and on and on… like a bad-boy Vonnegut novel become all to real.

Then there is the whole crazy post-truth era in which the foundations of the Enlightenment program that has since Adorno and Horkheimer’s ‘Dialectic of Enlightenment’ spawned the anti-humanist tradition, which only now is beginning to be challenged by various forms of speculative realism, materialism, vitalism, dialectical materialism (Badiou/Zizek), among so many other ism’s… we are facing questions of disaster from Climate change, Societal collapse, Asteroids, Pandemics, etc. etc….

Nietzsche proclaimed the ‘Death of God’, Foucault upped the anty and proclaimed the ‘Death of Man’… and now we are in what some term a Sixth Extinction event which might lead to the annihilation of most life on planet earth…

Then the whole new worlds of transhumanism, posthumanisms, inhumansims… take your pick… the world is up for grabs…

And, that’s just it, isn’t it? Our secular Enlightenment worldview which gave us the middle-class era (Bourgeois) of democratic nations seems to be drifting once again into forms of totalitarian authoritarianism of either Fascist or twisted Communist (think Russia/China) forms which have still the appearance of open societies, but have mechanisms of isolation and control, propaganda and ideological inscapes that are encroaching on the whole individualist ethic (Lockean, etc.) of the past couple hundred years. (Not that we shouldn’t look into forms of de-personalization, psychopathy, schizophrenic forms which in their extremes have led to suicides, terrorism, madness, serial killers, etc.)

We seem to be on a teeter-totter seesaw floating perilously close to  the edge of social, political, and … for lack of a better term, metaphysical madness and self-lacerating annihilation.

So, yes, I’m a little pessimistic about our prospects…

Some pessimist say it might have been better to have never been born… I would re-phrase it: “It might have been better if the great majority of idiots, imbeciles, and stupidoids not to have been born, and may they go the way of the do-do bird quickly!”

Bones of Change

The bones of the city jutted above the morning horizon like the bloated carcass of an ancient saurian, the abandoned tenements frozen against the deadly sun peered across the eastern skyline like a forgotten sect of prophets and madmen. I’d been scrounging through the empty vesicles of old trash bins in the suburbs for tin cans and childhood trinkets: tricycles, rusty bicycles, broken dolls, puppets, refuse of the lost and tormented; lives of those forgotten souls whose dreams had taken a slow dive into the abyss of this bleak world.

I’d been moving from city to city along the old rust belt eking out a bare existence along with a tribe of scroungers for almost a year. Tubal, our leader, would pick through most of the junk, separating it out into various heaps each night as we returned. We’d use the things that could be made into tools for trade at the makeshift markets throughout the dead zones. The other objects we’d turn into weird assemblages for the yearly festival. We’d craft objects that would take on a life of their own, revealing aspects of the hidden world of our new earth. It would be during such times as the dark circus offered that we would discover in the uncanny movement of these artifacts the subtle beginnings of a metamorphosis; the art of a new order of things – a new mode of being emerging.

Most of the others like myself seemed to drift in and out of the festivals of the dead cities like ghosts from a forgotten crime. Lost among our own fragmented dreams and selves we’d try to remember the before time. Unable to remember our dreary lives we’d celebrate the inhuman world that was slowly unfolding around us. Nothing lived in these zones anymore except the mutants, and they kept to themselves for the most part, fearing further contamination and violence from the brutalists who terrorized everyone in this lawless realm.

I’d abandoned the farm when I was ten. My Pop committed suicide that year. We found him out in the dust where the dregs of dying corn stalks had grown up around his bloody flesh like the flowers of some infernal paradise. His eyes were wide open and a little puffy as he looked up at the white eye of the sun. He seemed to be almost peaceful, his lips purplish, his cheeks sunken, the larval life of insects setting up residence in his decaying chest. Mom burst into tears, while my little sister, Jasmine stood there holding a doll, sucking her thumb, swaying back and forth as if Pop’s would rise up once more from the dust and tell her a night tale of some dark fairy world.

Mom died a few weeks later when the tap water stopped. The last thing she’d told me was “You’re the man, now. Take your sister and find someone, anyone…”. That was all, her eyes seemed to go blank then and I heard a slight sound of air escape her mouth as she slumped over. My sister started to cry. I just stood there. What else could I do?

The road was empty. I’d not seen a car for months. When we came to old highway I flipped a penny. It was tails, so we went East toward the darkening horizon. Somewhere along the way I’d lost my sister. I’d laid down for a nap against the heat and death plumes of an overripe sun. Awakened by a dust devil crossing my face I opened my bleary eyes and saw her in the distance, her little body enmeshed in a cloud of dust. I searched for her for two days, shouting her name out, listening to the emptiness and dust. Nothing. I wanted to cry but my eyes were too dry, all I seemed to do was utter strange sounds that cracked and crinkled from my throat like an alien thing, lifeless and strange. I felt I was coming apart, unraveling; fragmenting into a thousand shards, my sense of self and identity vanishing with each step. There came a point I couldn’t even remember my name. I was another. All I remembered after that is finding Tubal one day and his tribe roaming the edge of one of the lost cities of the rust belt.

They say the old world is dying and a new one is being born. All I know is that this new world isn’t quite human anymore. Things have begun arriving from the outer reaches that have no resemblance to us. They say we, too, are changing… my bones protrude through my rotting skin now. They seem to have a life separate from me, mutating into something beyond my control. I’ve been watching this process for some time now and assume I’ll be pushed out of the tribe any day. Yet, I’m not worried. They say the bones of change are a gift. Day by day this inhuman thing I’m becoming is stronger, more resilient, healthy as if my old life, my old self were going through a singular metamorphosis, escaping the human… becoming other.

©Steven Craig Hickman

On Emptiness

The amazement of things is that they exist at all, but do they; not having direct access we settle for those mediators of the Mind, never knowing what these things are that float through consciousness. What if each thing is sustained only by our fragile thought, vanishing the moment our thought dissolves and the bleak truth prevails. What then? What if what we think is real is but a distortion, an anamorphosis of reality; a dark apprehension of the emptiness of things we mistook as real? The metaphysical doldrums of our mirrored concepts and numbers break across such quandaries with the only solution available: a thing is real when it is the most irreal. The contradictions surrounding things is not in us but in the things themselves, we can only apprehend that which is not rather than that which is, things are incomplete and dissolve the moment we reduce them to thought. We gift things with the reality of our distortions as if this would make them more real, but things are incomplete; unfinished. The fabric of reality is sustained by our illusive thoughts, whether in concept or metaphoric display, math or matheme. Someone suggested that reality is what does not go away when we do, a thing’s persistence in exposing us as nothingness rather than its own dark contours in the Real. Others tell us that what is real is that which cannot be thought, that thought is itself the beginning of emptiness. To think a thing is to kill it, to cut it off from its truth; a broken thing caught in the lie of thought. Yet, others suggest that there is a crack in the real, an abyss before which out thoughts fall, emptied of their mobility; chastened by the emptiness of things thought suddenly breaks, the truth revealing itself as the unreal – a catastrophe at the core of reality. Some say that what is most real is that which is withdrawn and away, that reality totters on the edge of our senses – a sensual dance of properties and appearances which never touch the Real. The Sciences reduce a thing to its use-value, to the pragmatic workings of tools and commerce. Wandering over the abyss of the Real we grasp only the empty husk of things, not things themselves. The toys of our mind are the playthings of nothingness. We who are bound to the horizon of consciousness have sought beyond the fitful bleakness that which is not conscious, the non-phenomenological trailing of a substantial truth which cannot be disputed nor dismissed, denied or destroyed. What if it is the impossible, as if what is real is only that which breaks our thought rather than any substantial thing caught in the net of thought? What if thought itself becomes real only when it breaks across the plenum of things? Thought as the carrier not of emptiness, but of fullness – a pleroma full of catastrophic monstrosity. What if things think us instead? What if we who are unreal become real only in the distortions of things? We who do not exist become the history of things in movement. What if the movement of the world is itself an emptiness we cannot bear, the dark tender of a coin that will never cover the costs of our venal judgments. What if we who most of all do not exist, but rather move between time’s fragile moments, spend our nights and days seeking solace from that which is most fleeting – our own thoughts which do not reflect reality but are the fragments of its anamorphic communication in-between things? Even the moon dismisses such pursuits as vain.