The Subtraction of Being

What are we when confronted with the interior vortex which swallows us into absurdity?

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

The eerie… is constituted by a failure of absence or by a failure of presence.

—Mark Fisher,  The Weird and the Eerie

The End of the World came and went. Most of us never even noticed it. Most of us woke up to our usual work-a-day life, the drudgery of going through the paces in a job we all hated, a job that put bread and butter on the table, a night away from the kids in a burger joint dreaming of caviar and settling for two pickles and a brown onion half-eaten by some troglodyte by the fryer. So it goes.

Then we realized something really had happened. A slight change in the bosses smile, a subtraction from the usual messages coming over the tele, a different news anchor, a voice from elsewhere telling us the world was safe from some forgotten disaster. But we knew better; or, at least, I did. Something was missing, as if reality had withdrawn from its own appearances. People seemed the same, but something was off… and, I just couldn’t put it together. Eerie was the word on the tip of my tongue, a feeling at the edge of consciousness that something was afoot but one could not put thought to it.

Then I realized what it was… I was dead, a mere shadow among shadows; absent while present. A hole in the wall of being, a forgotten substance whose inner fire was the negative of some polaroid’s dim congruencies. An imageless existence whose silence was mere thought without projection, the formless idea exploited among the spaces of a galactic void. Yet, I was here, I was I. Or was I? This pronoun we take for granted, this thing attached to a body, what is it, really? Faceless and imageless I could only inhabit others with my absence. Did they know? Were the thoughts flowing through their minds semblance or actuality. Would they know the difference? Knowing I was no one and everyone I could at last be free. But free for what?

Do you, dear reader, know of what I speak?

Broken Worlds

Don’t take this wrong, but will at the end of this week all this ‘direct action’ change the world, or only bolster the positive feedback between a few humans across the planet that we at least tried to do something (“Look at us, we tried to wake you up! etc.”)? What I fear is that the truth is that nothing will be done to stem the tide, that in the end it will be like those Burning Man festivals that mark a high point in peoples nostalgia for something indefinable, but once the party is over all that is left in its wake is just a wasteland of deserted dunes where the trash-bins of history keep nothing but the silence…

Maybe I am too pessimistic, but having lived through such things before and listened to climate activism for sixty years I tend to think we are doomed to lethargy and decay, that humans want other humans to do something rather than be bothered to do it themselves. People will buy into something for a few days, weeks, months but in the end will go back to their failed lives like the passive and disturbed creatures they are… at least till the next best thing once again lights them up. But as we both know this is just a game of narcissistic lament rather than a sustained revolution against the order of stupidity on our planet.

What we need is a harsh and bleak accident (Virilio) to disturb our sleep, to awaken us permanently from our lethargic nightmare. We live in denial of reality, drifting in the illusions of all our sundry cognitive biases. Even if we feel that nudge in the carcass of our thought that speaks to us of death we will cover it over in some urgent scheme of radical denial. We cannot bare to much truth, we would rather accept our lies, our fictions.  Striping our minds of the deliriums of our desires we slip into the cage of indefinable nostalgia for the pristine, the pure. In the end it is like the universe itself a decaying and fragmented display of a mindless process that for all its grandeur will end in nothingness, its fractured lights all going out one by one till all that is left is an eternal darkness and cold infinity of zero.

Our Future / Our Past

Crash Space: The Coming Age of Machinic Intelligence

We exchanged a flurry of texts. We weren’t idiots. We knew full well the gravity of what had happened. But we also knew we had nothing to fear, and very little to cover up.

—R. Scott Bakker, Crash Space

Anyone still believing that the “blunt tool” of mass surveillance is protecting us from terrorists should read the Washington Post’s two-year investigation of “Top Secret America.” The detailed series of articles suggested that the United States’ massive surveillance system could possibly make us more vulnerable to terrorism:

“Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States. Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year— a volume so large that many are routinely ignored. In the Department of Defense, where more than two-thirds of the intelligence programs reside, only a handful of senior officials— called Super Users— have the ability to even know about all the department’s activities. “I’m not going to live long enough to be briefed on everything” was how one Super User put it. The other (Super User) recounted that for his initial briefing, he was escorted into a tiny, dark room, seated at a small table and told he couldn’t take notes. Program after program began flashing on a screen, he said, until he yelled “Stop!” in frustration. “I wasn’t remembering any of it,” he said.

Billions of personal details about the general population, collected by computers, can overwhelm those officials looking for a particular suspect. As the New America Foundation report indicated, most terrorists are caught using “traditional investigative methods, such as the use of informants, tips from local communities, and targeted intelligence operations . . .”

In the coming years all human intelligence will become mute, AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) machinic systems and the decisions made upon such data depend will be done more “efficiently” through rule based normative functional algorithms, making matrices that will be invented by the artificial minds themselves. All surveillance and Global Security Systems will be in the hands of the AGI’s, since humans such as the SuperUser above will not have the necessary processing power to absorb, much less decide on, filter, collate, and analyze such massive Big Data as will be collected in such great Data Centers as the one being built in Utah.

We’ve entered that strange transitional age when we are as humans obsolescing our own intelligence in favor of machinic gods who will have no sense of our cultural or social value systems, only the algorithmic targeting capabilities of seek and destroy policing of the animal called man. We are building the cages of the future, and enforcing a new breed of policing agents in the frontiers of our brave new worlds of machinic being. Through our fear of terror, we are producing greater terrors. From economics to security the deep-learning algorithms and other plasticity based systems of self-transforming and feed-back systems based on endless rhizomatic loops will surpass our capabilities and move beyond our ability to control or constrain. What then?

Stephen Hawking fears it, saying: “It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate,” he said. “Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.” Tesla CEO and famous technology innovator Elon Musk has repeatedly warned about AI threats. In June, he said on CNBC that he had invested in AI research because “I like to just keep an eye on what’s going on with artificial intelligence. I think there is a potential dangerous outcome there.” He went on to invoke The Terminator. In August, he tweeted that “We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes.” And at a recent MIT symposium, Musk dubbed AI an “existential threat” to the human race and a “demon” that foolish scientists and technologists are “summoning.” Musk likened the idea of control over such a force to the delusions of “guy[s] with a pentagram and holy water” who are sure they can control a supernatural force—until it devours them. As Musk himself suggests elsewhere in his remarks, the solution to the problem lies in sober and considered collaboration between scientists and policymakers. So much for Enlightenment? But these are the extremes, other voices say other things, and the process of making such systems seems inevitable with so many nations and corporations investing so heavily into every aspect of robotics, war machines, and AGI related systems for profit or sex or power.

Mass surveillance programs are run by machines or persons trained to act like machines. Targeted intelligence operations are run by experienced security agents who are allowed to use the knowledge gained through years of training. In the future our urban zones will become more and more integrated into smart infrastructures where the electronic eyes, ear, scent, and prosthetic appendages of sensory outlays once part of the human body will become externalized into the very objects of common everyday work around us. The systems that will shape and secure our systems of command and control within the urban workplace will be a part of a vast integrated system of artificial intelligent centers that will run everything from our basic needs to the most criminal policing enterprise the world has ever seen. It will be invisible, part of the background, so virtualized that we will not even be aware that we’ve become part of a Planetary Prison system that we ourselves built and handed over to the Great Artificial General Intelligent systems to come. To call this paranoiac is to enter into inhuman territory of mind and thought which that term was only a simplified interdiction onto the human, not the machinic.

Watching the recent craze of mobile to mobile Pokémon Go we’ve entered the moment when the virtual is seeping into our world, when men, women, and children stare into the screens of their hand held systems as if they were more real than the world around them. Even criminals have hopped on the wagon. Armed robbers used the game Pokémon Go to lure victims to an isolated trap in Missouri, police reported on Sunday. Pokémon Go warns players to keep aware of their surroundings during their virtual treasure hunt, but after only a few days since its release it has already led people into a string of bizarre incidents. People have ended up in hospitals after chasing nonexistent animals into hazardous spots, and schools, a state agency and Australian police have warned people not to break the law or endanger themselves while “Pokemoning”. The game has also led wanderers to at least one home misidentified as a church, a venue the app considers a public space.

We are so desperate to fill the gap of our meaningless world with meaning, that the virtual worlds of our electronic media are beginning to supervene onto reality and control our very bodies and behaviors. We’ve allowed the virtual to become our reality and left the old worlds of natural existence behind, and yet those world impinge upon our false realms in dangerous and untold ways. Nick Bostrom, a philosopher who directs the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, describes the following scenario in his book Superintelligence, which has prompted a great deal of debate about the future of artificial intelligence. Bostrom believes that superintelligence could emerge, and while it could be great, he thinks it could also decide it doesn’t need humans around. Or do any number of other things that destroy the world. The title of chapter 8 is: “Is the default outcome doom?” As Paul Ford recently at MIT stated: “No one is suggesting that anything like superintelligence exists now. In fact, we still have nothing approaching a general-purpose artificial intelligence or even a clear path to how it could be achieved. Recent advances in AI, from automated assistants such as Apple’s Siri to Google’s driverless cars, also reveal the technology’s severe limitations; both can be thrown off by situations that they haven’t encountered before. Artificial neural networks can learn for themselves to recognize cats in photos. But they must be shown hundreds of thousands of examples and still end up much less accurate at spotting cats than a child.” (Our Fear of Artificial Intelligence)

Others like Rodney Brooks tell us hogwash, we have nothing to fear. Extrapolating from the state of AI today to suggest that superintelligence is looming is “comparable to seeing more efficient internal combustion engines appearing and jumping to the conclusion that warp drives are just around the corner,” Brooks wrote recently on “Malevolent AI” is nothing to worry about, he says, for a few hundred years at least. Yet, others like Stuart J. Russell, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley disagree with Brooks, saying: ““There are a lot of supposedly smart public intellectuals who just haven’t a clue.”  He pointed out that AI has advanced tremendously in the last decade, and that while the public might understand progress in terms of Moore’s Law (faster computers are doing more), in fact recent AI work has been fundamental, with techniques like deep learning laying the groundwork for computers that can automatically increase their understanding of the world around them.

As Ford concludes we have no technology that is remotely close to superintelligence. Then again, many of the largest corporations in the world are deeply invested in making their computers more intelligent; a true AI would give any one of these companies an unbelievable advantage. They also should be attuned to its potential downsides and figuring out how to avoid them. This somewhat more nuanced suggestion—without any claims of a looming AI-mageddon—is the basis of an open letter on the website of the Future of Life Institute, the group that got Musk’s donation. Rather than warning of existential disaster, the letter calls for more research into reaping the benefits of AI “while avoiding potential pitfalls.”

Agency: Human or Artificial?

It is not that reality entered our image: the image entered and shattered our reality (i.e. the symbolic coordinates which determine what we experience as reality). What this means is that the dialectic of semblance and Real cannot be reduced to the rather elementary fact that the virtualization of our daily lives, the experience that we are more and more living in an artificially constructed universe, gives rise to the irresistible urge to ‘return to the Real’, to regain the firm ground in some ‘real reality.’ THE REAL WHICH RETURNS HAS THE STATUS OF A(NOTHER) SEMBLANCE: precisely because it is real, i.e. on account of its traumatic/excessive character, we are unable to integrate it into (what we experience as) our reality, and are therefore compelled to experience it as a nightmarish apparition.

—Slavoj Žižek. Disparities

This sense of loss of reality and the nightmare quality of our lives in this weird world of the artificial seems to pervade every aspect of our socio-cultural lives. Our politics has turned south, gone under into a nightmare zone of strangeness across the First World. People that have sensed this nightmare surrounding them have been desperate to return to the old ways of our ancestral realms in any form or fashion. Ergo, the reason for traditionalist values and pundits on the Right of the spectrum have arisen because of this vacuum in peoples lives living in the artificial worlds of the modern urban megacities where every form of existence has become plastic and plasticity as a thought form has become all too real. Sex and Race pervade our politics now because the barriers of the fantasy worlds of the old mythologies of Monotheism no longer hold, not longer feed people what they need to give their lives meaning. We’ve been demythologizing and leaving these ancient systems behind for a few hundred years. Yet, in small pockets they  hold on fiercely and adamantly in certain traditionalist camps.

Catherine Malabou explains in Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing, the concept of plasticity, whose scope and stakes are firmly inscribed in those of our era, has overtaken the schemas of text and the trace. Plasticity “takes over” and “becomes the resistance of difference to its textual reduction.” In The New Wounded: From Neurosis to Brain Damage, Malabou expands her reflection to cerebral pathologies, particularly Alzheimer’s disease. She hosts a dialog between philosophy, psychoanalysis and contemporary neurology, offering to demonstrate how cerebral organization presides over a libidinal economy in current psychopathologies. She also proposes a new theory of trauma and defends the hypothesis of destructive plasticity. In her latest book, Self and Emotional Life, Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, and Neuroscience, written with Adrian Johnston, Malabou continues her exquisite crossing of disciplines, this time in order to explore the concept of wonder.

Without using all the jargon of postmodern shibboleths neuroplasticity in brain and mind is a term that refers to the brain’s ability to change and adapt as a result of experience. When people say that the brain possesses plasticity, they are not suggesting that the brain is similar to plastic. Neuro represents neurons, the nerve cells that are the building blocks of the brain and nervous system, and plasticity refers to the brain’s malleability. There’s both a functional and structural aspect to this neuroplasticity, one which allows other parts of the brain to take over the functions of diseased or traumatized areas (functional); and, the other (structural) refers to the brain’s ability to actually change its physical structure as a result of learning.

Our notions of agency have over the years changed, and the notions of Subject and Self have come under great scrutiny in philosophy and neurosciences. N. Katherine Hayles once suggested that if on the one hand humans are like machines, whether figured as cellular automata or Turing machines, then agency cannot be securely located in the conscious mind. If on the other hand machines are like biological organisms, then they must possess the effects of agency even though they are not conscious. In these reconfigurations, desire and language, both intimately connected with agency, are understood in new ways. Acting as a free-floating agent, desire is nevertheless anchored in mechanistic operations, a suggestion Guattari makes in “Machinic Heterogenesis.” Language, emerging from the operations of the unconscious figured as a Turing machine, creates expressions of desire that in their origin are always already interpenetrated by the mechanistic, no matter how human they seem. Finally, if desire and the agency springing from it are at bottom nothing more than performance of binary code, then computers can have agency fully as authentic as humans. Through these reconfigurations, Deleuze, Guattari, and Lacan use automata to challenge human agency and in the process represent automata as agents.1

If our binary and / or algorithmic systems can already be thought to have agency, what of the more advanced AGI’s that even in their primitive beginnings during our experimental age are already surpassing human intelligence? Many guffaw such surpassing of the human as wishful thinking, as imposing upon the machinic world of things our anthropomorphic thought forms. But is this so? Are we not actually following the trajectory of two thousand years of technics and technology that has always gone hand in hand with human culture and civilization? Isn’t there always a sense of a two-way interactive oscillation between human agency and its creations? Isn’t this dialectical interplay between machine and human always already been a part of the human instrumentalism that was to eventually be termed science?  Our elite pundits have tried to spin a story that the Enlightenment was an aberration, that instrumental reason was no more than culturally bound entity, and that it too would be sloughed off for something else. What is this something else if not the AGI’s we are now inventing out of necessity at our own unsurmountable finitude? Building such superintelligences because our own abilities as creatures of finitude and limitation cannot surpass certain barriers due to evolutionary bindings? Because we have created such a desperate need for decomplexifying the data of our world in all its multifarious complexity?

The notion of Agency and Subject developed by Deleuze, Guattari, and Lacan, is a subject in which consciousness, far from being the seat of agency, is left to speculate on why she acts as she does. She is increasingly aware that the origin of agency lies beyond the reach of consciousness, enacted by a computational program that is ultimately controlled by the external agent that has programmed the code to operate as it does. Even at this deep level the ambiguity of agency continues, for program is perceived to act both as an agent on its own behalf and as the surrogate for the will of the human. The ambiguity is repeated within consciousness, where she perceives herself to be exercising agency in the margins, as it were, the grey areas where the objectives of code might be implemented in ambiguous ways. In these complex reconfigurations of agency, the significance of envisioning the unconscious as a program rather than as a dark mirror of consciousness can scarcely be overstated, for it locates the hidden springs of action in the brute machinic operations of code. In this view, such visions of the unconscious as Freud’s repressed Oedipal conflicts or Jung’s collective archetypes seem hopelessly anthropomorphic, for they populate the unconscious with ideas comfortingly familiar to consciousness rather than the much more alien operations of machinic code. (43)

Blindness and Insight: Beyond the Hum of Machines?

Antonio Damasio, argue that body and mind are inextricably linked through multiple recursive feedback loops mediated by neurotransmitters, systems that have no physical analogues in computers. Damasio makes the point that these messages also provide content for the mind, especially emotions and feelings: “relative to the brain, the body provides more than mere support and modulation: it provides a basic topic for brain representations” (xvii). As Hayles tells us ”

The central question … is no longer how we as rational creatures should act in full possession of free will and untrammeled agency. Rather, the issue is how consciousness evolves from and interacts with the underlying programs that operate analogously to the operations of code. Whether conceived as literal mechanism or instructive analogy, coding technology thus becomes central to understanding the human condition. (44)

That great atheist dialectical materialist, Slavoj Zizek in his recent work Disparities will humor us saying that “Einstein was right with his famous claim ‘God doesn’t cheat’ – what he forgot to add is that god himself can be cheated. Insofar as the materialist thesis is that ‘God is unconscious’ (God doesn’t know), quantum physics effectively is materialist: there are microprocesses (quantum oscillations) which are not registered by the God-system. And insofar as God is one of the names of the big Other, we can see in what sense one cannot simply get rid of god (big Other) and develop an ontology without big Other: god is an illusion, but a necessary one.”2

Can we say that this necessary illusion is central to our quest to build the God Mind in our AGI’s? Are we not in fact and deed actually trying to create a god? Isn’t this truly at the heart of the artificial intelligent holy grail quest? To become machinic, to enter into the transitional stage of superintelligence, make our own pact with the impossible? For Zizek we have never been human, we’ve always been in transitional movement, that humans are in themselves absolutely nothing, without any fixed agency or stable self, that nothing pre-exists our being in the world, and that the notion of Subject is of movement toward something else. For Zizek we live in-between the Subject which is nothing in itself, and the world that we do not have direct access too. There is a crack in the world between us and reality, and all of our grand tales, our visions, our fantasies are ways in which we seek to bridge the gap between ourselves and reality. Yet, time after time our bridges built out of mathematics or language cannot bridge the gap so we build even more fantastic schemes:

This is why, from the strict Freudian standpoint, fantasy is on the side of reality, it sustains the subject’s ‘sense of reality’: when the fantasmatic frame disintegrates, the subject undergoes a ‘loss of reality’ and starts to perceive reality as an ‘irreal’ nightmarish universe with no firm ontological foundation; this nightmarish universe – the Lacanian Real – is not ‘pure fantasy’ but, on the contrary, that which remains of reality after reality is deprived of its support in fantasy.(Kindle Locations 285-288)

So once our human illusions, our fantasies are stripped from the world, what is left is the bottomless pit of nightmare —the Universe of machinic life. The endless sea of process and chaos churning on and on and on…

Reality is impenetrable not just because it transcends the constrained horizon of finite human being but also because we humans are unable to control and predict the effects on our own activity on our natural environs. Therein resides the paradox of anthropocene: humanity became aware of its self-limitation as a species precisely when it became so strong that it influenced the balance of the entire life on earth. It was able to dream of being a Subject until its influence on nature (earth) was marginal, that is, against the background of stable nature. The paradox is thus that the more the reproduction of nature is human mediated, the more humanity becomes a ‘decentred’ agent unable to regulate the process of its exchange with nonhuman nature. This is why it is not enough to insist on the nontransparency of objects, on how objects have a hidden core withdrawn from human reach: what is withdrawn is not just the hidden side of objects but above all the true dimension of the subject’s activity. The true excess is not the excess of objectivity which eludes the subject’s grasp but the excess of the subject itself, that is to say, what eludes the subject is the ‘blind spot’, the point at which it is itself inscribed into reality.3

My friend R. Scott Bakker calls this ‘blind spot’ of the Subject our inability to turn back upon ourselves and view the very processes that create consciousness —the Brain. We have no direct path toward reality, nor upon our own processes. We are blind to both reality and ourselves. Bakker defines a crash space as “a problem solving domain where our tools seem to fit the description, but cannot seem to get the job done” (p. 203). Bakker argues, plausibly, that the cognitive and emotional structures that give meaning to our lives and constrain us ethically can be expected to work only in a limited range of environments — roughly, environments similar in their basic structure to those in our evolutionary and cultural history. Break far enough away, and our ancestrally familiar approaches will cease to function effectively. As Bakker reminds us:

Herein lies the ecological rub. The reliability of our heuristic cues utterly depends on the stability of the systems involved. Anyone who has witnessed psychotic episodes has firsthand experience of consequences of finding themselves with no reliable connection to the hidden systems involved. Any time our heuristic systems are miscued, we very quickly find ourselves in ‘crash space,’ a problem solving domain where our tools seem to fit the description, but cannot seem to get the job done. (21)

We are living in such a domain now. We have for a few hundred years moved from our ancient heritage of Hunter/Gatherers, Agriculturalists, and emerged into a new realm both artificial and outside the confines of the natural world environments that were our base and support for millennia. Our philosophies, religions, cultural forms, our mythologies and even our instrumental reasoning powers – both cunning and rational, are no longer bound to the natural earth and environs, but rather have become unmoored within realms unforeseeable by our ancient systems of constraint and reason, our modern civilization. We’ve entered the Crash Space of Modernity in transition and our fantasies that have partially filled the gap of meaning have fallen into fragments and disarray across the planet. Our modern lives in this artificial world or urban cities, mobile to mobiles, electronic virtual realities, etc. has overtaking our ancient ties to the jungles and swamps of our ancient ancestry. Our minds have become unhinged from the natural environments, and have yet to make new ties to the urban zones of our future lives in artificial worlds.

And now we’re set to begin engineering our brains in earnest. Engineering environments has the effect of transforming the ancestral context of our cognitive capacities, changing the structure of the problems to be solved such that we gradually accumulate local crash spaces, domains where our intuitions have become maladaptive. Everything from irrational fears to the ‘modern malaise’ comes to mind here. Engineering ourselves, on the other hand, has the effect of transforming our relationship to all contexts, in ways large or small, simultaneously. It very well could be the case that something as apparently innocuous as the mass ability to wipe painful memories will precipitate our destruction. Who knows? The only thing we can say in advance is that it will be globally disruptive somehow, as will every other ‘improvement’ that finds its way to market. ( Bakker, 22)

I remember back in the seventies at university my English teacher (we still had an English Department back then! long before humanities) once said that Science Fiction was the mythology of our Age of Reason and Modernity. I still believe that is true. We are in the thousands of fictional scenarios of science fiction inventing a path forward, creating stories and tales that seek to understand and immerse us not in the past, not in character studies of Novels, but in the tools necessary to help us move steadily, calmly, and with reasoning awareness into the most impossible region of all —the Future.

As we move forward we realize we are not alone, that around us is a great host of stars, planets, galaxies unbound. The only thing stopping us from change and developing viable paths in cultural, social, politics and life is our own defective and maladaptive minds, blinded by our own immersion in these processes we have no control over and yet control us in ways beyond telling. We live by fantasy, we always have… we create meaning not out of blindly stripping reality of our minds, but by weaving meaningful fantasies based on our awakening to the new and unbidden. Only when we allow our fantasies to rule over us, to suborn us and enslave us as in ancient thought of religious and socio-cultural systems of power and knowledge that weave us into their larger frameworks like so many insectoids to do the bidding of the few rather than the many do we begin to lose sight of the power of mind and its place in the universe at large. As Bakker ominously surmises “Human cognition is about to be tested by an unparalleled age of ‘habitat destruction.’ The more we change ourselves, the more we change the nature of the job, the less reliable our ancestral tools become, the deeper we wade into crash space.” (22)

  1. Swirski, Peter. The Art and Science of Stanislaw Lem (pp. 28-29). Ingram Distribution. Kindle Edition.
  2. Slavoj Žižek. Disparities (Kindle Locations 1086-1090). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  3. ibid. (Kindle Locations 721-729).

Reading Ervin D. Krause’s ‘You Will Never See Any God: Stories’


Krause (Left) with brother, Gerald (Right)

The boy felt a shudder—it was not the air and the wisps of drizzle. He knew what it was—there was evil here. He had a swift recognition of the evil of something warped, the terror of darkness and the strange; he had felt it before, on cold lightning-fired nights, in the chill of the church on Sunday mornings, on entering an unlighted barn. This had always held a secret terror for him, for he went much to Sunday school and church, and he had heard much of evil, had known it to be rampant and secret, and it had always been hidden secretly from him, behind bannisters on stairs, in the darkness of doorways at church, behind corners cringing in barns, in the dank, tree-overhung lagoons that were nursed with bad water and a stench down along the river. It had always been a secret terror for him before, but now it was here, very near to him; he could look up and see the heavy, mudded shoetops of the neighbor with that face strange, carved as if from red and rotted wood with the purple, bloodless leer and the red-rimmed, gouged eye.

—Ervin D. Krause, You Will Never See Any God: Stories (“The Right Hand”)

Once all but forgotten, writer Ervin D. Krause, the son of a Midwestern tenant farmer, ranked among the best short story writers in the country in the early 1960s. Championed by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Karl Shapiro, then editor of Prairie Schooner, Krause’s work was reprinted in both the O. Henry Prize and Best American Short Stories anthologies, sharing space with luminaries like Flannery O’Connor, John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates. At a time when American literature was still heavily preoccupied with the beatniks — the breathless bebop of Kerouac, Burroughs’ cut-ups and more — Krause wrote hopeless stories in gimmick-less prose, stories that open doors only to slam them shut, stories as dusty as a November cornfield and populated with the characters of his childhood.

As Carson Vaughn says it Krause’s stories evoke a grim determinism more in line with the naturalists of decades prior, a cold reality mimicked by a “frigid sun” or a farmstead “abandoned and gray.” “None of his characters finds peace, none finds a sanctuary of comfort, all find failure and defeat,” Krause wrote in the introduction to his 1957 master’s thesis, “The Three Views of John Dos Passos.” The same could have been written about Krause’s stories themselves, their tone pessimistic, skewing always toward a harsh and unrelenting realism.

I’ve barely begun reading these stories, but already their dipping me in that ancient loam of darkness surrounding us, an abyss of primal worlds that seep into ours every night in the realms of nightmare. And, yet, his stories also touch base with an older world of humanity in the early Agricultural realms of the Icelandic Sagas, a realism that pits humans within a mythology of the elemental earth and its organic cycles. A place we have tried to forget in our urban worlds of artificiality. Krause would remind us that beyond the glitter of the night skies of the great skyscrapers lies another world, the realm of stars and evil energy arising not from some transcendent realm of gods, but rather closer to home in the very soil of our climatic earth where all civilizations have always found their fatal outcomes from womb to tomb.

One perceives this in stark terms as the boy from the short story I quoted in the beginning, ‘The Right Hand’ watches the neighbor farmer as he tries to nurse a young calf back to health whose front forelegs to the nib were gnawed off by his hogs:

After two days the calf would not eat anymore and even then somehow it managed to stand, its sides transparent against the toothpick, tiny-slat ribs, and it wandered thus, falling and rising and floundering in the dust of the yard, like some mad tormented creature, driven by something inexplicable and terrible, seeking to hide in the shade of the plum brush, but always falling and being drawn in the wrong direction, wandering, mad and awful, disfigured and torn, yet somehow, madly, relentlessly living, driven like its master to live, in spite of the want for death, until at last it did die, with even the last death motion feeble, and the calf bellow only a gurgle in the quivering throat, and in the evening when the dust had cooled and Stark came back in from the fields, he took the calf and carried it up the pasture hill and buried it.

This sense of the life force at work in the calf, the blind need to exist, to move, to live. Schopenhauer would see in this physical enactment the power of the will. He’d teach us that through both first and third person perspectives we can by way of self-awareness, by peeling away its layers of meaning, we will inevitably come to the conclusion that the inner essence of things is nothing less than the will. Schopenhauer’s first step toward that conclusion is a simple distinction between two forms of self-knowledge. I know myself as an individual, he explains, through my body, which makes me just this individual and no other. But I know this body in two ways or from two perspectives (I. 157; P 100). I can view it from an external or third-person perspective, where it appears as one object among others; but I can also view it from an internal or first-person perspective, where it is the single, unique object of my self-consciousness. Schopenhauer stresses that these two modes of knowing ourselves are utterly distinct from one another. They are two incommensurable perspectives upon one and the same thing: namely, my body (I. 161; P 103).1

Krause in his vision of evil would see this will to live, this Schopenhauerian energy and drive to exist as a part of the fatal evil of existence, not some metaphysical evil of external devils, etc., but rather the inherent drive of life in its will to exist, to remain, to blindly keep on struggling. In the story the boy learns the difference between actual and metaphysical evil in life and the physical world, and that the two are twain, divided, different.

As Krause relates of the boy, in his mind the farmer was evil for wanting to help the young calf survive. Because of his Christian belief system, taught by his Mama and the Sunday school he is mixed in his views of the natural and metaphysical. Here is his reception of Stark:

After that the boy had even a deeper terror of and hatred for Stark. It was not because of the calf; he had no sympathy for it, for he had seen suffering, he had witnessed agony and seen the dumb struggling eyes of animals in pain, and he had grown used to it, had felt nothing at seeing death—no, that was not it—it was that Stark could want something so misshapen, so awful around, and would want to make it live.

The boy’s sense of evil, taught by his Old Testament knowledge of Cain and the Mark, etc., makes him see evil in this metaphysical light: “The boy wanted to destroy the calf the first time he saw it because it was so badly disfigured, just as he had calmly destroyed ducklings with misshapen beaks and pigs that were born with their guts outside themselves. That which was misshapen and marked was evil, was not natural, and needed to be destroyed, and he felt a shudder run through him, remembering how Stark wanted to keep the animal alive.”

So that the boy imposes an evil on things and animals that are not part of the farmer’s life and being, a metaphysical imposition that rakes across the world a fear and trepidation of all things scarred and misshapen. At the heart of the story is the birth mark on the old farmer Stark himself, whose face is seen in the early description:

The birthmark pulled the lips crooked, made them seem open, even if they were not, made them look dead with that deep-purple, bloodless, blooded color. It was the purple of something dead—the purple on dead horses’ heads before the rendering truck or hogs come to them. The boy stared at this face, the face reflecting the sorrow and the sufferings of lifetimes, a face with the mark of Cain perhaps, or just of the man’s parents; it was a face with that naked hurting look of a burn or a brand healing and yet never quite healed, always inflamed and sensitive and sore; it was a face of terror and of bad dreams, giving to anyone who saw it a weird and evilfearing anxiety.

The boy raised up on Old Testament horrors and tales sees pain and suffering everywhere, as if these were signs of evil and punishment. While Krause himself portrays the farmer as just a man living in the elements of his world of earth and soil, a man who does what such men do, not bothered by such metaphysical fictions but rather existing in a world without gods or such mind bending tales that warp the psyche beyond repair. I want spoil the tale for you with the ending, just to say that in the end we discover that the evil has all along resided not in the Old Farmer, Stark, but in the boy who has impose upon the world what lies only deep in his own Bible bound metaphysical mind, an evil that has shaped his psychopathic psyche and being, twisting it beyond all telling…

Yet, if there is an epiphany in this short story, it comes not by some sublime enlightenment, rather it comes in the very moment of the common, of the dull, of the truth of our shared lives. The boy who has been working his way up to sneak into the old farmer’s house while he is out and about, thinking in his devious boy’s heart that there must be some hideous evil lying in wait within those four walls, enters the farmer’s domain only to find no real evil other than loss. The boy comes into the old man’s bedroom and finds nothing more in it than a few pictures with memories:

 In the picture, too, were a boy and a girl, the boy younger, both plain, vacant-faced children, like any other boy and girl. And on the picture, written very faintly, but carefully, too, as if it had been written a long time before, above the man’s head were the words “Ezra Stark, Sr., died 1938,” and above the woman’s “Mathilda Stark, died 1943,” and “Carl” beside the boy, and “Harriet” beside the girl. He did not know why the picture was there, and he did not really care.

This moment of the realization: “The boy surveyed the room again. He was genuinely disappointed. He had expected something of a purpose perhaps, overwhelming and evil, a mad old woman, an opium den, a room full of glowering icons, but instead there was only the single dull picture.” And, yet, it is this singular object, this ‘dull picture’ that holds the key to the story, the memories and history of a man, alone, a man who has seen his father, his mother, his wife and children all die before him; a man who will seek to keep alive the things of the earth and soil that are his charge for as long as it takes, a man whose memories and keepsakes are all he is and has…

And, a boy, who is beyond that ability to see just this and, instead, sees nothing there at all but a dull old picture that means nothing. The boy not even adult has already entered into that nihilistic world through the very power of a darkened Biblical vision that has hooked his psychopathic heart, lured him into a world where memories and feelings no longer exist. Only his mission to discover and wipe out evil like some inquisitorial ambassador from an earthly hell…

I’ll not say another word on that story… you will need to read it. Krause’s stories may not be for everyone. His dark vision of life and our ruinous ways is part of what quickens me to write of him. Like Flannery O’Conner there is a deep-seated vision and moral power there in these works, but not one that is pervaded by ancient religious consciousness but rather by something older, darker, and more powerful springing up from the very core of the inhuman earth. His is a violent and twisted world full of weird and at last ghastly figures, at once macabre and horrific, and yet within that is still this sense of a code of being that knows the ways of earth and the elements, the patterns of the stars and fate; and, as well the freedom of decisions and retroactive thought that challenges the deterministic threads that would weave us into some death bound universe of lifelessness. For him evil is not in the world so much as it is the terror filled power of our own mind’s to hide from the truth of the world.

Krause’s posthumous work is out finally in book form: You Will Never See Any God.


  1. Beiser, Frederick C.. Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900 (Kindle Locations 1061-1066). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

A Stick Figure World: Politics as Rotten Cartoons


Politicians are stick figures in a rotten cartoon factory, one that produces the State as pure anti-hero. But where are our super-heroes? And, one must add: Where is the door out of this cracker-jack box?

More and more the irony of this year’s election is bringing out the truth that we live in a post-democratic society here in the good old U.S.A.. At home and abroad America is taking a dive, demoralized we’ve become the stock and trade joke of the early 21st Century. A government that would rather bail out the Plutocrats than its own citizens no longer deserves anything but derision and satire. Yet, this isn’t the end of it, citizens will need to do more than laugh in the months and years ahead.

Satire has a rich and varied history. Juvenal, the Roman satirist, lived under the dreaded Domitian and wrote of his life as an administrator (bureaucrat). He wrote of the corruption of society in the city of Rome and the follies and brutalities of mankind. In the first Satire, Juvenal declares that vice, crime, and the misuse of wealth have reached such a peak that it is impossible not to write satire, but that, since it is dangerous to attack powerful men in their lifetime, he will take his examples from the dead. He does not maintain this principle, for sometimes he mentions living contemporaries; but it provides a useful insurance policy against retaliation, and it implies that Rome has been evil for many generations.

Of his satires it is Satire 7 that depicts the poverty and wretchedness of the Roman intellectuals who cannot find decent rewards for their labours. In the eighth, Juvenal attacks the cult of hereditary nobility. One of his grandest poems is the 10th, which examines the ambitions of mankind—wealth, power, glory, long life, and personal beauty—and shows that they all lead to disappointment or danger: what mankind should pray for is “a sound mind in a sound body, and a brave heart.”

Today Juvenal would probably be labeled a moralist and reactionary in some ways, yet he was able to give us a pattern and set of tropes that guide much of our critical arsenal today. Satire was to expose the darkness hiding in plain site, the underbelly of our political and social worlds, and those minions of power and fame that hollow out the core of a nation’s life. We live in an age that is beyond satire, a time when the very meaning of satire no longer goes far enough to shape the truth. For our age has no truth, ours is nihilism defined; a time when men and women play at playing on the stage of media worlds that have become nothing more than the One-Dimensional sounding boards of their vein narcissism. The cardboard characters that strut the stage of our late spectacle no longer define life, but instead define the cultural death squads of a future without hope. Our despair is not that we want find the Good, but that the Good has already become our Evil. Ours is the age of Cartoons, a time when the scripts that politicians follow are mere facades for the idiocy of a post-mediatocracy that presents the spectacle as the only show in town.

The destiny of such a Mediatocracy living in the gap between satire and farce is that it has suborned the real into a cartoon village world where pundits and citizens alike gaze on in stupefaction as the leaders play out an end game that has no future, only a present full of derision and vanity. No longer the days when we could hope for real change, reality has exited the stage and left us with this charade of wonderland. The apocalypse will not come by way of strange days, but rather with the whimper of a citizenry who allowed cartoon gods to rule over them.

Savage Nights: A Salvagepunk Novel


China Miéville writes that “[w]e need utopia, but to try to think utopia, in this world, without rage, without fury, is an indulgence we can’t afford […] we cannot think utopia without hate.”

A Near Future post-cyberpunk “Grunge” or “Salvagepunk” Noir: bleak and pessimistic, yet full of hope for all that. A broken world full of our own world’s dark truths, dreams, and nightmares. Schizoanalytic psychoscape of tears done up in dark humor and cataleptic laughter. An anti-hero you can hate and love at the same time. A sort of Warren Ellis Spider Jerusalem reject bound to a anti-consumerist / anti-corporate media-scape slippage. It goes against consumerist society and fights for our rights to be free from the ownership of corporations, media and society.

Grunge is about freedom, pure and simple. It’s stepping away from self-absorption and starting to care about the people around you. It’s protesting against the fixation of beauty and perfection and letting us know that appearance doesn’t matter. Ugly is the new beautiful. It’s realizing that happiness doesn’t come from fortune and fame, rather the opposite: the guttersnipe dreams of fools and madmen, lovers and old hags, children and mothers. The punk of salvagepunk is what makes it revolutionary.

Punk is not the commodified and commercialize image of Mohawked teens with pins through noses. It is certainly not the PVC slick technological wet dream of cyberpunk with its Deleuzian ‘intense’ nomadic multitudes and immaterial labour. Nor is it the “false dream image” of steampunk, where “its falseness lies in it being the wrong dream image, the ideological blind that is the dream image proper to the liberal escape plan for the contemporary crisis and its envisioned fall-out”. Punk is thus the “deep fidelity to its historical moment and the fact it no longer believed in a future – the present is already the hollowed out present of that future”.

Now on Wattpad: Visit me!



Savage Nights

Woke up with a savage hangover, my head throbbing like a viral strum from a Nachtmystium bass-drum. We’d partied down hearty last night, and I was paying plenty for it. Oh well… serves me right for drinking that Klos’rek Wine Beau brought back from the Serengeti Folds. The liquid scarlet looked more like the blood of Limbonic Selptura. Don’t even ask.

Slapped Betsy on the ass. She looked up at me with her one good eye cocked and ready, and the other – a purple and pink syntech eye rotated in its socket like a twisted nanctopus, twitching feverishly with a warped anti-life all its own. Both eyes eyed me closely as if she might infest me with virulent dose of mutagens: the whizzing and buzzing around the black pits of her irises were screaming a loud “fuck you and the horse you rode in on,” but on second thought she just punched me in the shoulder, rolled back over and started to snore again.

Yea, never wake your lady up too early.

Problem was I had to be gone soon. She knew it, too. Hell she’d been the one kept telling me to come home last night. So it goes, I’d probably never learn. So I reached over and this time gently bit her on the ass. She laughed. “Jess, why you up so early? Can’t a girl get a little shut-eye these days?” Yep, she was alive alright, and I knew if I didn’t pop out a bed and into the commode she’d wallop me right back… and soon.

Couldn’t quite say the same for me self, though. Looked in the fractured mirror in dilapidated bathroom and saw death staring back at me like a broken toy somebody left out in the mud for a little too long, all caked and mutilated. Reminded me of an on old black vinyl record I’d once had, got stuck in a rut playing some black metal tune from Infernal Paradise’s last album – the one just before they were shot down over the DMZ – till I thought I’d entered Pandemonium and winged things were pulling me apart piece by piece. Not a memorable site to say the least. Standing there scratching myself I studied the twisted gunk in the white-enamel basin, something running around the black hole, creeping listlessly like a rusty bot-slug – hungry as all get out, waiting to feed. It wasn’t going to be on me. I lifted Betsy’s toothbrush out of the coffee-stained mug, her burnt orange lipstick traced around its rim, and watched as a cockroach popped its head up and over the squiggly teeth of the brush. It sat there a second wheedling its antennae as if to say, “Hey, sucker, put me back down and get the hell outta here.” I obliged him.

Instead I walked over to the bedside, grabbed a fifth of Jim Beam and my cigs off the end table, took a long slug, gurgled and chugged it down clean as a whistle. Reminded me of my Old Man’s favorite drink: Napalm Sally, a mixture of Beam and dirty juice from Joe Kragen’s rusty gin still down by Smith’s Hill. Something about the mix of juniper berries and corn mash churning in me belly was sick, but it worked just fine, and I just loved the after-bite. I felt like a dead man warmed over, one who’d been given a reprieve, a short respite from the Day of Worms or Judgment Day. That was alright with me. Hell was a fine place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there.

By the time I’d gotten my jeans on Betsy was already at the hotpot skittle cooking us up some eggs and bacon. She liked to cut a hole in the center of the wheat bread and pop those eggs right down in the middle of it. Sweet stuff. A little butter and yolk goes a long way. Slabs of raunchy bacon dripping out of the package to the side, smelled like a bad day in the sewers; kind of yellow and buttery, slimy to the point I could imagine those Salmonella or E. Coli mating with each other on that hot skillet, happy suckers, singing to themselves that they’d soon be crawling around in my intestines scrummaging through my life like a bad dream.

My iGalaxy ripped an old Tom Waits tune on the uptake, vibrating across the floor like a squig yelping on the getaway. I could see Betsy thinking about reaching over an popping it till I said: “Don’t!”

I grabbed it off the crusty floor and walked out the front door and down the rickety stairs, almost stumbling over my neighbor Joey Qix’s youngest son’s freaking scooter. Stubbed me toe. Kicked it across the chipped asphalt, it fell into a sink hole and down into a mud pit. That’d teach that fat boy a lesson or two. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t be such a bastard, but sometimes I just feel like being mean. Can’t help myself. Comes with the territory.

I pried the slip-case, peeled back the facing, and I slid the ampule in till I could see a wormy face jut into view, a slithering voice came out of its pod on the screen: “Yeah, what the freck you up too Bobby Lee?”

“Com’on Jessie,” his voice squirmed down the electric flyways like a scared rabbit in heat. “I need your help, Jessie; real help.” A slight chill came over that cold tube-light. I grinned, it was like a blessing seeing someone else in so much pain. I’d had enough of it myself for a lifetime.

“You’ve always needed frecking help, Bobby Lee: How has that changed?” His face went blank, turned a little yellow, almost rancid; then white as a sheet. I asked: “So what happened, did that dipshit screw-girl you hang with slip you? Run off with your last wad?” Bobby Lee was a natural born loser, one of a kind screw-up. They didn’t make his kind anymore. No. He was a reject before rejects were a bad name.

“Nah, man… it’s not like that at all.” His voice was cracking. “It’s my little sister, Talia.” Tears flowed down his grimy cheeks like the coal black treads on an old 64 Pontiac muscle car; couldn’t fart so he bled it thick and hot from those bloodshot eyes. He choked.

Dam! I’d heard she was having a bit of trouble with the gang down on Hollis Avenue. Bad crowd there. Bunch of sorb-biker types always shaming the gals as if they were just meat puppets. Slice and dice bitches. Dead Girls with trodes and bleeder fangs. She’d hooked up with Wolf Davidson. Mean son-of-a-bitch. Ran the Choko Vagars between Meat Town and Grunge City. Low life’s, one and all. But hey, what could I say, people had to survive. Frecking U.S.A.’d become Dog Bone Nation soon after the Civil War. Yea, the one between the U.S and Mexico. Not pretty. All that low-tech Biomech. Brain food. Neuroservs. Bangers and Neurocaine drug-sliders. Gave me the chillies just thinking about it. Freck it I was a made man, one of the Changu Hitters (short for sinrunner… run the Bog to ShaTau run so many times they’d finally had to slipfeed ‘plants in my neuralnet relays to keep from becoming a full tilt zomb).

“Okay, Bobby, meet me down at Drake’s, hear me?” He shook his head like dead fish, up and down. “Yea… yea, man… I’ll be there.” Heard tires screeching in the background. The amp tooled out. Flicked the screen shut. Took another drag. Sky white and deadly. Ozone world circling above, empty, refined to merciless radiance. Silence.

I looked at the time. Scaped-eyed the lot and streets for signs of movement. Nothing living out there for sure. Made me remember things…

I’d gotten lucky after the war, caught a Neocorp gig with SynTech Global, worked the pac-rim NGO Circuit, oceanic partials mainly; none of those quick feed-packs either, no – this was legit, had the code for egregore intakes that would sink a Sec-Corp AI without even cracking an electrosweat. Could turn a whole Zomb-Unit into pus against its own CEO in jig time. Easy money. That is if you didn’t mind squeezing the fryboys on the GovPol vessels. International Police. Global Governance. Dickheads. By the book skinheads. Fascists. Everything had gone fine till I slipped up and lost a package in Tokyo. My Shagen Director told me to patch it or die. I patched and went under for good. Heard the SynTech AI took down Tokyo’s Yakuza’s mainframe in Okado for laughs. Deadly. Couldn’t get the bitch back in its cage after that. I was cooked. A wanted man without a way out. They took my SecCard offline, I went rogue. Black market shave, stapled pass. Cost plenty, too. So now I was slippage for the outworlds, an excluded man; exile. A man without a name, and most of all without Security SimCity implant. No clearance, meant no city life within the enclaves. I’d been a bad boy. Stuck out here in the cold wastes with everyone else.

But I had a plan. I always had a plan.

I went back upstairs. Betsy had finished cleaning up and was sitting on the bed brushing her long auburn hair, cute as a pixie; her grin and her strange eyes. She was the kind of gal a guy could marry someday. She’d stuck by me for two years. Seen the rugged tumble with me in the Grunge. I didn’t love her, and she knew it. Didn’t bother her much. She’d seen too much death to worry about love. No. She just liked having a warm body next to her in the night, a hug here and there. She liked sex but it wasn’t a priority, she’d had a hysterectomy at the age of sixteen. A rape gone bad, hurt here real bad. She’d never really gotten over it, either. Too bad for us both, I wasn’t the marrying kind. She was a good woman, and I tried my damnedest to keep her healthy and happy best I could. What the hell else could you do in this dead world? I reached down and gave her a peck on the cheek, she grabbed my crotch, said: “Why don’t you pull those off and come here to mama?”

We both laughed at that knowing why that wouldn’t happen. War. What else should I say. Shrapnel. You get the idea.. “You know I’d love to baby, but I got business to attend too.” She shrugged.

“Hell, you always got business. What about me? I’m not going to sit here all day waiting for your sorry ass to show up. No, siree.” She grinned, saying: “I’m goin’ find me a good man, that’s what I’m going to do.” We always did this, a sort of ritual so the pain between us wouldn’t come out.

“Good!” I said, smiling. “Maybe he’ll bring in enough dough for us both.”

She kicked me in the chin, laughing. “Okay, get your ass outta here before I change my mind.” Nudging me… “But remember you’re taking me to Chou Ling’s tonight… or, did you forget that?” Dang, she had me there. I’d forgotten all about that.

“Uh huh… you know I wouldn’t forget a thing like that honey.” I gave her one of those looks.

She frowned. “Well, if you come in late just don’t expect me to be sitting here with food on the stove.”

Nada. I knew better than to think that. She was fiercely independent. I sometimes wondered if she were my sidekick or I was hers, everything being copacetic. “I know,” knowing I better have something for her, a gift or I’d be sleeping on the floor, too. “You know me better than that.”

“Uh, huh…” she grinned again. “I sure do!”

I grabbed my satchel and my gun, slipped my cap on, patted her on the ass again, and reached down and gave her my tongue this time. She squirmed, then punched me again, lovingly. Didn’t need to say anything else. She knew. We both did.

* * *

I found Bobby pacing the cracked water pipes down on SimCity Blvd. Eyes bloodshot. Hands shaking, he was about to sit down on the steps outside Drake’s when I drove up in my old Chevy truck. Sad. I grabbed him and we took off down toward Chabin Beach, about the only freezone left in the Grunge.

* * *

(Note: Comments welcome! Just the opening sequence in a new work cross noir and grunge – a  Salvagepunk – Necropunk novel… thanks!)

One | Two | Three | Four | Five

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2016 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Future Updates on Wattpad – I’ll be adding a chapter per week:

China Miéville writes that “[w]e need utopia, but to try to think utopia, in this world, without rage, without fury, is an indulgence we can’t afford […] we cannot think utopia without hate.” Working a new Near Future Grunge Salvagepunk noir: bleak and pessimistic, yet full of hope for all that. A broken world full of our own world’s truths. Schizoanalytic psychoscape of tears done up in dark humor and cataleptic laughter. An anti-hero you can hate and love at the same time. A sort of Warren Ellis Spider Jerusalem reject bound to a anti-consumerist / anti-corporate media-scape slippage. It goes against consumerist society and fights for our rights to be free from the ownership of corporations, media and society.

Grunge is about freedom, pure and simple. It’s stepping away from self-absorption and starting to care about the people around you. It’s protesting against the fixation of beauty and perfection and letting us know that appearance doesn’t matter. Ugly is the new beautiful. Evil is Energy unleashed, creativity from the bottom-up, gutwise. It’s realizing that happiness doesn’t come from fortune and fame, rather the opposite: the guttersnipe dreams of fools and madmen, lovers and old hags, children and mothers. The punk of salvagepunk is what makes it revolutionary. Punk is not the commodified and commercialize image of Mohawked teens with pins through noses. It is certainly not the PVC slick technological wet dream of cyberpunk with its Deleuzian ‘intense’ nomadic multitudes and immaterial labour. Nor is it the “false dream image” of steampunk,where “its falseness lies in it being the wrong dream image, the ideological blind that is the dream image proper to the liberal escape plan for the contemporary crisis and its envisioned fall-out”. Punk is thus the “deep fidelity to its historical moment and the fact it no longer believed in a future – the present is already the hollowed out present of that future”.

The Third Temple


Herod watched on as they rebuilt the temple,
such as it was, a diminished thing, built
on a pattern little understood; so far removed

as it was from Solomon’s prefecture;
this vacant court where emptiness prevailed.
He’d studied these black-crested priests,

their endless prayers to the faceless God;
a cause of wonder and laughter to his Greek kindred,
who all surmised it to be a derisive patronymic larceny.

Then some startup toppled the changers stalls,
made havoc among the sacrifices, animal blood
running amock in the common soil like some dogs body.

No this would not happen in his kingdom. Such things.
So when they brought him forward that day he strangely wondered,
what man is this that can so disturb the tribes,

cause such bitter diatribes in priestly wit to absolute indifference?
He seemed a mere peasant, nothing to charm a people;
so why did so many follow this beggar from the lesser realms?

He questioned him, could see no wrong; yet, his strength
in weakness begged the question of his secret power
of conversion, this disquieting truth of a beggared love?

All he could do is have him whipped, sent away, told
to keep his mouth shut against such ways as his, the truth
he squandered so readily among the low and helpless.

Yet, his haughtiness betrayed him. Saying
he could tear down the temple, raise it in three days;
such overreaching pride, such vanity;

exactly who did he think he was, anyway,
this son of Yahweh? O come now,
such things were ludicrous, one knew it was imaginative;

such things as gods were but the tools of Kings, governing,
bringing sway over the unlearned, the dark minded believers.
Even he, Herod, an unbeliever would not kill such innocence,

he washed his hands of it; only that Baptist, the one his daughter
encased on the silver platter, Herodias; even she stained him,
made him feel ill at ease among such ghostly favors, a silent anguish.

So in the end he let them have their way with him, this vagrant rabbi;
let them take him, humiliate him, bring him to the place of skulls.
What did it matter to him? This man, blameless or truant? Guilty, of what?

Yet, the memory of the man’s eyes: undeceiving, clear, strangely lit
as if he knew what was coming; as if he’d foreseen it all, providentially.
It was this alone that forced his hand, forced him to slay the man.

All that mattered was the rule of law, his law; a world ruthless and brutal.

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Hart Crane: Chaplinesque

Charlie Chaplin

The bottom of the sea is cruel.
…..– Hart Crane

We make our meek adjustments,
Contented with such random consolations
As the wind deposits
In slithered and too ample pockets.

For we can still love the world, who find
A famished kitten on the step, and know
Recesses for it from the fury of the street,
Or warm torn elbow coverts.

We will sidestep, and to the final smirk
Dally the doom of that inevitable thumb
That slowly chafes its puckered index toward us,
Facing the dull squint with what innocence
And what surprise!

And yet these fine collapses are not lies
More than the pirouettes of any pliant cane;
Our obsequies are, in a way, no enterprise.
We can evade you, and all else but the heart:
What blame to us if the heart live on.

The game enforces smirks; but we have seen
The moon in lonely alleys make
A grail of laughter of an empty ash can,
And through all sound of gaiety and quest
Have heard a kitten in the wilderness.

Hart Crane’s ability to ply the hyperbolic sublime to even the saddest of tales is what makes him our Marlowe. To turn darkness to light, the gloom to poetry; awaken us to the plight of the streets and poverty with a sense of equanimity equal to the task in a poem made of words is to reach through the cracks of contradiction and touch the face of what is Real. This why we still honor him as the American Orpheus.

And Chaplin… need we say anymore! The visual poetry of that little tramp lives on, too!

Hart Crane, “Chaplinesque” from Complete Poems of Hart Crane, edited by Marc Simon. Copyright © 1933, 1958, 1966 by Liveright Publishing Corporation. Copyright © 1986 by Marc Simon. Used by permission of Liveright Publishing.

Stefan Zweig: On The Daemonic and Tragic Worlds


Reproduction and death condition the immortal renewal of life; they condition the instant which is always new. That is why we can only have a tragic view of the enchantment of life, but that is also why tragedy is the symbol of enchantment.
……– Georges Bataille

From Stefan Zweig’s The Struggle with the Daemon: Hölderlin, Kleist, Nietzsche:

“Daemonic” — this word has had so many connotations imposed upon it, has been so variously interpreted, in the course of its wanderings from the days of ancient religious mythology into our own time… I term “daemonic” the unrest that is in us all, driving each of us out of himself into the elemental. It seems as if nature had implanted into every mind an inalienable part of the primordial chaos, and as if this part were interminably striving — with tense passion — to rejoin the superhuman, suprasensual medium whence it derives. The daemon is the incorporation of that tormenting leaven which impels our being (otherwise quiet and almost inert) towards danger, immoderation, ecstasy, renunciation, and even self-destruction. But in those of common clay, this factor of our composition which is both precious and perilous proves comparatively ineffective, is speedily absorbed and consumed. In such persons only at rare moments, during the crises of puberty or when, through love or the generative impulse, the inward cosmos is heated to boiling point, does the longing to escape from the familiar groove, to renounce the trite and the commonplace, exert its mysterious sway. At other times the average man keeps a tight hand on any stirrings of the Faustian impulse, chloroforming it with the dicta of conventional morality, numbing it with work, restraining its wild waters behind the dams of the established order. By temperament and training the humdrum citizen is an inveterate enemy of the chaotic, not only in the outer world, but in himself as well. In persons of finer type, however, and above all in those with strongly productive inclinations, the unrestful element is ever at work, showing itself as dissatisfaction with the daily round, creating that “higher heart which afflicts itself” (Dostoevsky), that questioning spirit which expands with its yearnings into the abysses of the limitless universe.

Whatever strives to transcend the narrower boundaries of self, overleaping immediate personal interests to seek adventures in the dangerous realm of inquiry, is the outcome of the daemonic constituent of our being. But the daemon is not a friendly and helpful power unless we can hold him in leash, can use him to promote a wholesome tension and to assist us on our upward path. He becomes a menace when the tension he fosters is excessive, and when the mind is a prey to the rebellious and volcanically eruptive urge of the daemonic. For the daemon cannot make his way back to the infinite which is his home except by ruthlessly destroying the finite and the earthly which restrains him, by destroying the body wherein, for a season, he is housed. He works, as with a lever, to promote expansion, but threatens in so doing to shatter the tenement. That is why those of an exceptionally “daemonic temperament,” those who cannot early and thoroughly subdue the daemon within them, are racked by disquietude. Ever and again the daemon snatches the helm from their control and steers them (helpless as straws in the blast) into the heart of the storm, perchance to shatter them on the rocks of destiny. Restlessness of the blood, the nerves, the mind, is always the herald of the daemonic tempest; and that is why we call daemonic those women who diffuse unrest wherever they go and who open the floodgates to let loose the waters of destruction. The daemonic bodes danger, carries with it an atmosphere of tragedy, breathes doom.1


  1. Zweig, Stefan (2012-06-07). The Struggle with the Daemon: Hölderlin, Kleist, Nietzsche (Kindle Locations 226-251). Plunkett Lake Press. Kindle Edition.

The Rothko Chapel


Frozen in time, sequestered among the silences,
pyramidal doubt raises its sinking dominion;
and, like some jagged ray of ancient pain –
the radiance of a black sun, fallen
into this lonely abyss, we come to the chapel
where time ends and death begins her ageless reign. 

In the absence of myth we have these mute singers,
lamentations to the void and solitudes, of loss
beyond recompense in a realm where thought decays to nothing.

In this late era when men no longer contemplate
the gods or God, but pierce the void,
the self emptied of its images;
the nothing of this emptied staging of the world,
the place of no place,
where human and what was once taken as divine
wander the surfaces of some painter’s dark splotches;
just here the edge of that fractured light begins…

Here among the black ruins of eight angelic rulers
we come to contemplate the logic of worlds,
the calculated mathematical precision of aeons
(of which this darkness is but a collapse,
a slippage in the fabric of being, an event);
where strangers gather in silence
like secret witnesses to this great defeat.


Black on black a deeper darkness resounds, a bell
among the echo chambers of the Abyss…

Listen to the music, do you not hear it?

Her voice, the sorrow that grows in that black night?

Despair follows us among these entombed remembrances,
her tongue licking the flames
of this cold world of thought.

Before time she dwelt among the ashes of things,
her tears giving birth to that blind beast who even now
wanders the vastation where she aborted this dementia;
yet, he lives among her bones, arrogant and prideful,
a shadow among shadows, a black thing, a lifeless copy. 


Do you not see what cannot be seen? This monstrosity?
This mad king of formlessness: a mindless dimension
of broken vessels of that shattered light
that once obliterated the cry of those angelic choirs?

Here Suicide wanders the black stars among swirling seas,
where she sucks the light from the emptiness of things;
and, Death, her sweet sister laughs among dead pools.

Cold, impersonal, monoliths of some deep truth
immanent to things – without that transcension
…… of light,
folded into themselves, winged oblivions…

Who sang to you in those cloistered solitudes?
Who prayed to you without faith, bitter words, trembling?
Who gave your formlessness the cruel color of annihilation?

This chapel tells the tale of absence when these archons,
seeking safety among the mineral wealth of darkness,
hid their mistake, stuffed this green earth with vibrant matter;
a thinking thing, the first, awakened among false light,
a promise of return, a living chaos of some broken promise.

Only when the light of night, the moon, glances
into these painted threads can one hear those black sounds
reverberate against the absolute indifference of things…

…..Rothko named this sound – “the infinity of death”.

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.