On Whiskey Devil by Christian Galacar…

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Just finished this short story by Christian Galacar, Whisky Devil. All I could think of was I’ve been there, done that. A young boy of twelve growing up in a home with an alcoholic old man. I remember the times I had the shit beat out of me by my step-dad when he was drunk. I remember the hate in my blood for that old man. I remember what he did to my mama. I remember when I got old enough to finally say enough is enough… I think I’m not alone in this world with such a past. They say violence breeds violence; that might be right, but sometimes a person has to do what a person has to do— not because its the right thing, but because its from a dark place within that finally breaks and twists and pulls one down into that gutter where pain and murderous intent seem to breed terrible things; monstrous thoughts beyond reckoning. It’s sad to be broken like that. It’s sad to be torn by such ferocity that one has to meet it on those same terms. Somethin in you dies when that happens. Somethin that will never come back to its original balance, and leaves you in that dark place where hate mixes with fear and disgust. A kind of thing you’d like to wipe out of your memory, but know that’s not ever going to be possible.

This story takes you down into that dark place where things go wrong and nothing can ever remain the same; and, yet, unlike life it doesn’t leave you there, but carries you forward. It’s a story about a boy who becomes a man the hard way; lifted out of that childhood dream of innocence by an act of violence which leaves him in desolations graveyard. It’s about a boy who learns to face down the fears inside his own child’s mind till the tears run clean and true and without remorse. Where the guilt of being who and what he’s becoming marks him in that shattered mirror where the soul burns, and burns blacker than sin…


Whiskey Devil

Visit the author on his blog: https://www.christiangalacar.com/

Christopher Slatsky: The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature

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One of my favorite horror writer’s Christopher Slatsky has a new work coming out in a finely crafted small press edition from Grimscribe Press! As the synopsis informs us:

“From the author of Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales comes this devastating collection of fifteen stories and essays. A father’s desperate search for his missing child leads to a cosmic haunted realm. A woman returns to her childhood home to find a past preserved in a semblance of life. A young man and his canine companion are plunged into the heart of an occult government exercise deep within a Pacific Northwest forest. An elderly man is subject to mysterious experiments as he descends into dementia. And, in the title novella, a forensic anthropologist is called to the site of the mass suicide of an anti-natalist cult obsessed with contacting Nature.”

I wrote a review of his previous work in which I remarked that Slatsky’s tales inhabit that dark space, deliver the goods you relish, a ghoulish festival of aberrant delights that should let your night be broken and twisted till you crave reprieve from such demented realms and secret mindless miseries. Over the top? Hyperbolical? Am I shitting? No, its actually that good. If you crave atmosphere, if you like the visceral slime-pit of the grotesque and the macabre, a waltz into the scatological worlds of decay and organic demise this is your guy. He doesn’t pull any punches, and he weaves tales that are neither pastiche nor a silent send off to the great masters of the past, but rather let’s those influences – and, remember influence was once a term of astrological import of letting in the star power of dark light mingle with your own. I still stand by that statement and hope the new collection, along with the art by Käthe Kollwitz will entice the awards he so rightly deserves.

Feel free to buy the deluxe edition on pre-order from Grimscribe Press today!

The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature

Matt Cardin: Master of the Fantastic

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

—Italo Calvino, Fantastic Tales

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

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

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

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

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


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

Brian Evenson: Song for the Unraveling of the World

If reason is not a chimera, then it must resolve this problem: how to disengage, amid the factual beings given in experience, that which, adequate to beings as such, is not itself contingent?

—Quentin Meillassoux

CaptureWhat if our life was a mere shadow of a Greater Nightmare, and we but the enactment of its dark intentions? That we are a contradiction, a veritable alien thing amid the sleep walkers of this planetary realm of organic madness is apparent to almost anyone with a inkling of intelligence. Yet, there are those who wander through life as if it were perfectly normal, that it was all planned out ahead of time, each of us a mere particle or semblance of some indefinable blueprint long ago bargained for in the distant reaches of the pre-cosmic abyss. Others seeking only the safety net of security and certitude have fallen into cages of religion or philosophy that offer certain consolations and deliverances from the absolute contingency of the world, believing they can master and control their destinies with Reason and Knowledge. Like shadows in a timeless void we pretend we are real when in truth we are not even unreal, but mere allusions and echoes of some former realm that has all but been shattered by the cosmic catastrophe within which we find ourselves. A speculative thinker of our era, Quentin Meillassoux terms this absolute contingency – within which we move and have our being, a hyper-chaos; or, as he puts it “absolute time” itself. As he states it:

What do I mean by this term? To say that the absolute is time, or chaos, seems very trite, very banal. But the time we discover here is, as I said, a very special time: not a physical time, not an ordinary chaos. Hyper-chaos is very different from what we call usually “chaos”. By chaos we usually mean disorder, randomness, the eternal becoming of everything. But these properties are not properties of Hyper-Chaos: its contingency is so radical that even becoming, disorder, or randomness can be destroyed by it, and replaced by order, determinism, and fixity. Things are so contingent in Hyper-chaos, that time is able to destroy even the becoming of things. (Time Without Becoming 25)

This notion of time being able to destroy the becoming of things reflects the strangeness I find in a series of tales in Brian Evenson’s new collection Song for the Unraveling of the World. 

In the title tale of the Evenson’s collection we discover a Father whose five year old daughter has gone missing. The details of the story are simple and bare: the father has kidnapped his own daughter from his (ex?) wife, brought her to a safety-house (or, so he thinks!), provided her with toys, dolls, and all the possible comforts he could. He falls asleep listening to a song he assumes she is singing herself to sleep by through the thin wall between their rooms. He awakens to find her gone, her room secured from the outside; her bed and room strangely unused and a circle of her new things distributed around the bed like some unusual ritual had been performed with her as the star attraction. He searches the home, then the neighborhood, bars, the town… he finds nothing, nothing at all. He calls his ex-wife and discovers she does not have the daughter. He sits down again in his home and stares at a tv broadcasting only pure static as if from some alternate reality. As he thinks to himself:

It had not been his fault, he told himself. Sometimes things just happen and you can’t do anything about them. Just as with the scar on Dani’s temple—that had not been, when you considered it logically, his fault. It had simply been bad luck. (SUW 32-33)

We discover that he’d taken the daughter without thought, it had been a mistake, but that now that he had he’d built a safe haven against the very real world of Law and Society, against the powers of reality. He’d lived in his home with his daughter as if in a pure zone of freedom. He’d bolted the doors, boarded up the windows, isolated himself and his daughter from the world. For a year he lived this way as if that might just be enough time to escape the real burden of his choices. But that was all over now, his hopes of return, of redemption, of his wife’s forgiveness, of living ever happily after with his daughter. All gone.

And then the song started up again, the song from his daughter’s room, a strange and disquieting song in a language not quite of this world. He carefully pries open the door hoping to find here there, but finds nothing, nothing at all. He asks himself the question: “What does it mean to me?” He’s broken the ritual circle, laid down on his daughter’s bed, listening, thinking, hoping against hope that she will return: “He lay there, trying to feel some sign of his daughter’s presence. All he could feel was his own ungainly self.” (SUW 35)

As he is laying there contemplating the past, present, and possibilities of a future he will again as: “What does it mean to me?” This repetition without an answer of a question of meaning in a meaningless universe brings us back to that notion of absolute contingency. As Drago thinks to himself:

What does it mean to be me? He had lived, it seemed to him, several lives, and when he strung them together they didn’t seem to make any kind of chain. Whatever continuity was supposed to be there seemed to have dissolved and he didn’t know how to get it back. Even in just the last two years, there had been a life where he and his wife had been together and had been happy, followed by a life where he had been alone and miserable, followed by a life with just him and his daughter, followed by this life now, the one that was now beginning. What did it all add up to? Nothing. Merely four separate existences. He wasn’t the same person in any of them. Or rather, in the first three he was three different people. For this life, the newest one, it was still too early to say what, if anything, he was. (SUW 35-36)

As if his life were itself a series of disjunctive episodes that did not connect or touch each other, as if each time-frame were part of some strange world of pure contingency without rhyme or reason; a world where time had suddenly become destructive, a power of ruin and erosion, entropy and decay, as if time were unraveling all around him. As if whatever we are as persons were not what we thought we were, but something else; and that nothing we’d been told about the continuity of self and world were true at all, as if the facticity of the world had suddenly vanished into thin air and been replaced by some strange form of hyper-chaos.

Late that night he awakens and sees his daughter just beyond the ritual circle, groggily he rises up and tries to reach her but is bound to the inside of the circle like a demon:

When he got out of bed and moved toward her, he found he could not cross the border of the circle. As if I’m a demon, he thought. He prowled along inside the circle, edging around the bed, looking for a way out. But there was no way out. (SUW 36)

In ritual magic such a space is a circle (or sphere, field) of space marked out by practitioners to contain energy and form a sacred space, or provide them a form of magical protection from demons or other alien entities.

Drago watches his daughter from within the circle, and she watches him in silence for a long while. Then she rises up and leaves him there without a word being exchanged. After she leaves the spell that kept him bound to the inside of the circle is broken, and he follows her down the stair. Suddenly everything changes, the front door shatters, two detectives and his wife enter and accuse him of atrocities unimaginable. His wife crying, clawing at him through the window, begging him to tell her what he’s done to their daughter. And just as he’s about to understand just what he doesn’t know and will never know…  he wakes up.

Most of us think the world is a safe place, a haven against the cosmic night of horror lurking just outside our green, green earth. We think we can master and control the forces of horror arrayed against us, dispel the darkness of the unknown with the wand of reason and science. Then something happens to disturb this illusion, something inexplicable happens to us or a loved one, something that we cannot explain with either rational thought or those so carefully tended notions of common sense and the pragmatic truth of what we’ve known as reality. We begin to question ourselves and the world, suspecting either something has gone wrong with our minds or that the world has shifted into a darker and more mysterious zone. We begin to look around us and question the very nature of our lives and of those we took to be our friends. Paranoia sets in and we begin to fear that something is wrong with the world in ways it never was before. It’s this sense of things being a little off that these tales of Brian reveal with such simple prose. A prosaic world that moves along as if everything is normal then suddenly veers off into strange zones of being we never knew existed before.

Brian’s tales lead us into those alcoves of nightmare that we’ve hidden from ourselves all these years. Dark recesses of being that open out onto that Greater Nightmare where anything is possible, and will at one time or another probably happen. It’s a realm where the very nature of our self-identity begins to unravel, a realm in which the world you’ve known suddenly dissolves and another more sinister one is revealed. For far too long we’ve allowed ourselves to live comfortable lives in our illusory realms of as if, telling ourselves that our shared world of work and play is the only world. It is not. There is another realm waiting in the wings, between the cracks and seams, just outside our normal awareness that at any moment may just pull the blinkers off your eyes and reveal itself for what it is. You cannot hide from it, you cannot run from it, it is this world we all share seen with other eyes than the one’s you’ve allowed to be shaped by normalcy. It is the real world, a world of horror and ecstasy situated no where more central than in your own sleeping mind. It is the nightmare land where your real life begins, a monstrous life that only now you begin to understand and realize is the only ever life you ever had and will be without end.

Brian’s tales open portals into and out of that nightmare land. Each tale giving a glimpse of its strange manifestations, hinting at more than revealing. Tales that shift from time-present to time-past, else into sidereal zones of being that seem to exist in some parallel time world just this side of hell. Vampyres in the western lands; skin-changers in some New York boutique; aliens from inter-dimensional chaos whose only telling mark is to leave us faceless; murderous psychopaths; secret sharers of darkness and change; the friendly next-door cannibal family;  paranoid filmmaker’s who discover unbidden truths; holes in deep space that harbor inhuman mysteries… the litany of horrors like a kaleidoscope revolve round and round in this collection leading the wary reader into realms where the mind begins to literally unravel and begin to dissolve in the darkness of inescapable abysses. This is Brian Evenson’s world of terror and beauty where anything can happen and most likely will…

There is more to tale I related, but I’m not going to reveal that to you just now. Not now, not ever; for that you must read it yourself. But I can assure you this that each of the tales in this collection is like a song in that unraveling world of time that is hyper-chaos, a realm in which all continuity is gone, a realm in which every facet of existence is unraveling in a song of horror and delight. These are tales of that Greater Nightmare that surrounds us on all sides, a realm that we block out through our security blankets of culture and civilization. We believe ourselves immune to it through the perfect illusions we’ve created for ourselves, our normal dreamtime of comforting day worlds of work and play. But it is not true, just the other side our normal lives is an infernal region of absolute contingency that sooner or later will begin playing its song for you, too. And when it does your world will begin unraveling in into that Greater Nightmare carnival of existence… a realm of absolute contingency in which anything can happen and most assuredly will happen to you.

Enjoy the ride!


You can find Brian Evenson on his blog: https://brianevenson.com/

And his new collection on Amazon: Song for the Unraveling of the World

 

 

Michael Wehunt: A Review of Greener Pastures

There’s something sad and melancholy in these stories, a slow burn from the deep loam of rich Georgian earth, a cast of blue shadows from the Appalachian Blue Ridge’s hovering round the edges of the Northern childhood dreams of Michael Wehunt’s early night haunts. These are stories of loss and grief, of worlds situated in-between heaven and hell if one still believed in such things. There’s something old in Michael’s soul, something both peculiar and uncanny. It’s as if the deep black earth of his homelands were speaking through him, singing there way out of those dark guttural sounds of some ancient music. A sense of loneliness and gray shadows, twilights and imponderable winds in the pines. Silences and long open stretches of highways, spaces of regret and pity for an American that has slowly decayed into ruins. People who seem to haunt landscapes that sink into the hidden spaces around us, only opening up their dark tombs when the sun and moon orient themselves to the sad tunes of some solitary traveler whose inner sense of doom matches that of the darkest ponds and rivers. This is a world lost to time where one can hear the old world and new seeping into each other with strange tales of horror that grasp you like an old comforter full of feathers falling from an unknown dimension of heartache.

Whether it’s the bond of sisters in the depths of a dark cave, their blood marriage of minds shadowing the mutant madness of a town’s poverty and derangements, and their quest for the eternal blood of salvation and eternal life in a pool of death; or the honeyed laughter of first love, of a mother’s insect dreams, the rituals of old Europe springing up in the new world like the humming of bees in a summer’s cavalcade; or a lonely trucker caught in a realm just in-between nothing and nothing, listening to the dreams of an old man’s haunted life; else the music of angels or swans, low and distant, sifting a widower’s life between two loves – a desperate attempt to recapture the circle of youth in a strange metamorphic shift among untimely memories and feathers; or and old Jazz-man telling a story to a young girl facing down her dark thoughts, and he on about a blue devil of rhythms and blues and harmonies of greatness, leavings of last memories before leave-taking for parts unknown; and, then a haunted docudrama – four friends plundering the backwoods of New Hampshire, shooting paranoid footage of a haunted landscape of doom and ghosts and nightmares come alive;  else  a flight of women or angels falling into time and a puddle of trailers in a patchwork world of sin and mad preachers, seen through a young boy’s innocence: a world of bittersweet truths about a rag-tagged bunch of fools and liars and clowns;  and, more tales that sweep you down a world of pain and nostalgia, dark truth forged in twilight worlds and landscapes of visible hell that could be your own back yard or town…

Michael’s tales have that natural appeal of a deeply felt lived life of a man who sees into things. His tales have the seduction of folk lore and strange days, of the voice of story rising out of the black loam of a hidden America that is riddled with the lost souls,  misfits, eccentrics, and broken keepers of our darkening and decaying country of forgotten dreams and terrible secrets. And, yet, there is deep and abiding love and emotion in his utterance of our worst nightmares, a desperate quest for transformation and change, and an openness to the unknown wonders of a frail universe that does not frighten so much as seduce us to enter its dark harmonies. Then there’s the grief of the inconsolable that follows one’s days like a dead woman who will not go away but haunts one’s flesh like the “slow drip of living” in a world in which the “nights black and the days flat and you can hardly care”.

These are tales of fatalist acceptance and the inevitable dammed, awaiting neither judgment day nor some dark Jesus to carry them away into the cold black night haunts of the desperate void, but rather a singular country boy’s early and late dreams of that bleak cosmos where humans meet the mystery that awaits us all in the great indifference that is. And, yet, even in the blackest abysses of time and space there is something that keeps his characters going, something that makes them quest after some indefinable answer, a yearning for more life even in the midst of destruction and consumation; a need to continue in inexistence where the “harbinger with green grace, of yellow mouths opening somewhere now closer above…” resides this side of the tormented lands. A sense of those mysteries that surround us on all sides, the secret rendezvous with darkness and stars and the emptiness in-between, where in the silences of the empty sky full of black music of endless night something lures us onward and outward toward the inexplicable.


Author Bio:

Michael Wehunt grew up in North Georgia, close enough to the Appalachians to feel them but not quite easily see them. There were woods, and woodsmoke, and warmth. He did not make it far when he left, falling sixty miles south to the lost city of Atlanta, where there are fewer woods but still many trees. He lives with his partner and his dog and too many books, among which Robert Aickman fidgets next to Flannery O’Connor on his favorite bookshelf.

His fiction has appeared in various places, such as The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, The Year’s Best Weird Fiction, and The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu. This is his first collection.


Visit Michael Wehunt as his site: https://michaelwehunt.com/
Buy Greener Pastures from links at Apex Publishers

My Essay on Thomas Ligotti coming in July in Vastarien: The Literary Journal

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My essay Thomas Ligotti: The Abyss of Radiance will appear in the award winning Vastarien: The Literary Journal in the Summer issue this July!

Visit their site to learn more: https://vastarien-journal.com/

“Vastarien: A Literary Journal was conceived five years ago by a handful of people who wanted to see more writing about and in response to the work of writer/thinker Thomas Ligotti. Since then, our publication has been bombarded with stellar, but unusual, work by authors and artists—many of whom are underrepresented and/or newer voices. Without them and the incredible support Vastarien continues to receive from its devoted readers, this singular journal never would have come to fruition. Thanks so much to all of you and the staff of This Is Horror for this wonderful award!”
—Jon Padgett, Editor-in-Chief of Vastarien: A Literary Journal
THIS IS HORROR FICTION MAGAZINE OF THE YEAR

 

Gritty Low-Life’s Are Fine By Me: On Reading Tom Leins’s Boneyard Dogs

Just when you think you have seen it all, Paignton coughs up another harrowing has-been to haunt you.

—PI Joe Rey, Boneyard Dogs

When it comes down to it I’ve always felt a deep-seated rapport with hell.  I’ve spent the last thirty years pretending to be something I’m not: an intellectual, a philosopher. Right, what a crock. Maybe it’s old age catching up with me, or just the truth hounding me like some old junkyard dog outta hell. Either way I’ve come to the conclusion I’m just a displaced country boy whose life’s reckonings have more to do with the mean streets than main street, a world pulped by the low-life’s and losers, working class victims of a world that has passed us by and left us on the junk heap of time’s ravages.

Maybe that’s why I’ve always had a hard cold heart for pulp fiction, the nitty-gritty down and dirty  kind that digs straight down to the bone, opens up wounds in the soul so wide it feeds on your dark stained life without a blink, cutting to the marrow for the meat that makes even a sin eater’s life look like a saint in comparison. Hell, I remember sneaking some of my dad’s old magazines like True Stories, True Detective, and so many others; and, then came the paperback’s of Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Cornell Woolrich, Mickey Spillane, Gil Brewer, Bill McGivern, Lionel White; not to leave out all those infamous PI’s Philip Marlowe, Lew Archer, Paul Pine, and Mike Hammer, etc. But I think one of my favorites was always Charles Williford’s low-life crime stories, and Jim Thompsons psychopathic deputies.

Something of these pulp writers worlds rubbed off on me early on: the paranoia, the psychopathy of our country with all its murderous violence and charm. It was as if the life presented down at the my local church or in our high literature enclaves of the New Yorker were just a white-washed job, a sweet lie against the truth of our cross-stained sinful lives lived as they were in the dark back streets of small town America rather than in the big city worlds of some dreamland U.S.A.. These books taught me that there is a secret history of American that is for the most part swept under the carpet of decency and moral turpitude, a realm of mayhem and madness where creepy-crawly murderous rage and violence haunt our roadways. A place of nightmare and cold stone killers, a dark world of pain and sorrow where real peoples lives bend and twist under the pressure of lives gone wrong under the bitter malaise of our country’s fall into economic hell.

Even now that world is still with us, and there are some powerful writers carrying on that grand tradition of close to the bone, where dark and gritty tales of pulped lives still wander the lonely wastelands of our nightmare cities and villages. American hasn’t been that nice to a lot of her children, hasn’t allowed them to share in that promised land of riches and fame, but has instead dropped us into those black holes of sin where we live out our lives in the gutter full of alcohol, drugs, and false memories; victims not of society but of a despair so murderous in intent that violence becomes the only form of redemption through sin one has left. And, yet, in the pages of these old thumbed pulp noirs we manage to find if not salvation then at least the dark grit that speaks to us of others like ourselves who have fallen into bad times, been drawn down into the heart of darkness where fear and terror are but the mirrored lens of those night lands we inhabit day by day.

Tom Leins – Boneyard Dogs

One such writer is Tom Leins who’s learned a trick or two about this dark seedy world, created a realm by the sea where the cold cruel mean streets carve bloody inroads into our hearts with his pungent mix of sin and death. Tom’s Paignton noir series with the down and dirty PI Joe Rey spawns the kind of dark grit that reweaves the codes of those old pulp masters into strange new twists and turns, breaking with the clichés and offering us a vision of those low-life scumbags and criminals that live in the inner circles of our own hellish landscapes. Losers, drifters, con-men, drunks, druggies, all the down and out part-souled creatures that inhabit the back alleys of our minds seem to come out of the woodworks and dives in the city of Paignton.

This is a world where pessimism and cynicism fall short, a violent backwater of the imagination where primal fear and terror haunt the broken realities of some forgotten realm. Tom’s captured this sense of depressive realism and extreme despair of these fragmented souls living on the edge of suicide and mayhem. A realm where the puppet’s have forgotten they have strings, and the puppet master’s churn out psychomachia’s  to entertain the godless sadomasochists of some hidden order of corruption.

Walking through Paignton our PI describes the hellish world: “The town centre seems to be smothered under a sodium streetlight haze. Shaven-headed men congregate in pub doorways, drinking lager. Despite the icy weather, some are topless, and their big stomachs hang over their belts. Feverish eyes follow me through town, towards Winner Street.”1 (p. 16).

Typical of those older pulp PI’s our protagonist is not unknown to violence on occasion, who wouldn’t be living in hell’s half-acre? Working for clientele like Malcolm Chang a local kingpin mushed up with all the usual stench of such backroom escapades our PI takes on the case of an EX-lounge-lizard, whose daughter has gone missing. A case that will lead us into the seamy world of body traffickers where children become the scrip in a sex-world as old as human sin itself. Hounded by the local cops, wanted in connection to murder, our edgy PI wanders the misery prone streets seeking out the stories of the young woman’s disappearance learning more than he wanted to know. One remembers all those child trafficking tales of Andrew Vachss. Leins has taken such learning and brought it down into his own dark parables with the sorcery of a well seasoned professional whose research into those black corners of the mind tempt us to know things we should leave in the unknown, and yet give us back again a certain type of knowledge that wounds us with the night visions of nightmare and hell’s flowers.

This is not Rey’s first escapade, and Tom Leins has filled out this character in previous haunts: Skull Meat, Snuff Racket, and Meat Bubbles and other stories. Each with its own distinctive story line and pulped darkness. Light entertainment? Only if you like to drink Kool-Aid arsenic for breakfast. Enjoy these dark twisted tales from the hellish sea-side town of Paignton. And, tell them Hickman sent you… maybe they’ll even bless you with a slug or two to the head just for chuckles.


You can find out more about Tom Leins,

Personal Website: Things To Do IN Devon When Your Dead

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14431428.Tom_Leins

Published by Cold2TheBones: http://www.close2thebone.co.uk/wp/


  1. Leins, Tom. Boneyard Dogs: A Paignton Noir Mystery. Close To The Bone (July 26, 2019)

XYZT: Kristen Alvanson and the Fire Girl

Still savoring XYZT by Kristen Alvanson, a quote from DASHT-E LUT: Fire Girl:

“Noise of the storm – the roar of an overworked furnace, then hissing gusts of wind. Orange-out. Suffocating sky. Sauna stench one second, campfire smoke the next. All hot. Hued flame. Rippling sand dunes like rows of weather-shifted trim. Your teeth hurt. You hadn’t realized there is a place on earth that looks like the craters of Mars. Abiotic. Incalescence, you think it cruel on your already charred body. Crueler than speed.”

This sense of desolation, wind, fire, and light; a realm devoid of life, a great vastation; a desert in the sense of the Great (Empty) Quarter. Samuel Johnson once quipped to his friend Boswell his disturbance during an outing,

“Sir,” said Dr. Johnson, “the corporeal gelidity and horripilation superinduced by the niveous atmosphere cannot be mitigated even by the mental incalescence evolved by indignation.” “He means,” whispered Mr. Boswell, “that it’s so infernally cold in the cars of the Third Avenue elevated that even swearing at the directors won’t warm you.”

Incalescence dates from the early seventeenth century; it was one of many words that were imported from Latin by scholarly writers around this time, in this case from incalescere, to become warm or hot. That’s from calere, to be warm, which is also the source of calorie, calorimeter, and other words.

For Alvanson this mental notation and use of incalescence caught between the cruel light of the sun and the heat of the inner-sense playing across the folds of her body provoke the poetry of light, desolation, and speed. The perfection of the ‘mot juste’ phrase “Crueler than speed.” evokes the sense of what Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh in his newly published Omnicide speaks of the augomaniac:

“We encounter our first augomaniac facing the robbed sublimity of a light which is no longer a universal constant but rather an atypical tinge of counter-universal experience (something that should never have happened). Light appears as a sudden infiltration of the continuous, an emergent force that violates the supposed essence of world.”1

Deleuze on cruelty and speed would relate,

“The sadist’s destructive relation to the fetish must be interpreted in the light of his projective use of fantasy. To say that the destruction of the fetish implies a belief in the fetish (as profanation is said to imply a belief in the sacred) is to indulge in meaningless generalities. The destruction of the fetish is a measure of the speed with which projection takes place, and of the way in which the dream as such is eliminated and the Idea erupts into the real waking world. By contrast, the constitution of the fetish in masochism points to the inner force of the fantasy, its characteristic of patient waiting, its suspended and static power, and the way in which the ideal and the real are together absorbed by it.” (Coldness and Cruelty).

In Alvanson’s vignette we enter the middle-ground, the in-between realms between the marvelous and the uncanny, caught in the fantastic we meet the Blue Jinn:

“Jinn’s blue light pierces through the color with the force that only true complementaries can deploy. Her light is cool blue, but hot to the touch. Jinns are smokeless fire.”

Enmeshed in the sadist’s destructive cold, yet suspended in the stasis of a power both natural and unnatural our anonymous voyager seeks her way between the Charybdis and Scylla of the ideal and real in a quickened incalescence of mind and body, physical and mental calibrations beyond calculation; a geometry of thought rather than form, a formlessness of pure incandescence. “A person’s body can call a Jinn. You did not know you had called her.” This sense of the body having a mind of its own, and that consciousness is at a loss in conveying the intelligence of the body’s inner sense. A moment entwined in time within time the Jinn will reveal, let her see askance, see into the “life of things” (Wallace Stevens):

‘What I see…’ She surveys the area again. ‘You will lose your faith.’ After saying it, she shakes your shoulders in rounded motions, and bones crack as your body realigns.

Tom Cheetham in Imaginal Love: The Meanings of Imagination in Henry Corbin speaks of these unbidden guests, Jinn, Angels:

“What we can have and what we do get, are angels ‒ absolutely essential intermediaries between Creation and the Ultimate Enigma. The faces of angels are really all we can ever imagine of the divinity immanent to the Real. Angels are created beings and so have a Dark Face and a Light Face, and it is the Dark Faces that we see ‒ though they look intensely illuminated from where we stand. It is a matter of degree, and there are numberless degrees of “angelicity” in the grand hierarchy of angels. The endless depths and heights of the world the angels inhabit is guaranteed by the wonderful fact that every angel in turn has its own angel. The function of the angel is always to reveal depth and serve as a luminous icon that stands as Light to the relative Dark of whatever stage a being has attained. The potential for motion onwards is unending ‒ motion both higher and deeper, for here they are the same. This is the function of the angel as the “Angel Out Ahead.” In the imagination of this cosmology, even the Supreme Being, the “God” of common theology, has an Angel Out Ahead to guarantee the endless Openness of reality.”

Maybe Kristen is reaching in-between two worlds, an inner-émigré to Iran, a voyage through that impossible ‘decolonization of thought’ (Viveiros de Castro, Cannibal Metaphysics) that leads us back into the light of the Real, renews our connection to the natural and the cosmic: produces a cosmos-theoretic fiction that absolves us of our darkened reasonings and opens us up to the other who, after all, has always been there in the blue light waiting for us. An incalescent illumination that warms us to the immanent transcendence between two cultures, two bodies; thought entwined in its own decolonization into light and flame and cold blue unknowing.

As she will ask of the blue Jinn,

What are you? You shiver

The wooden door and metal window on the second floor shake as if they are being blown out by a hurricane. She nods in your direction, then leaps so fast you can’t make out an afterglow.

Slowly, the door opens.

This, just this, is the openness to reality, the collusion in-between where our secure connectedness to the world we have always known, and the other realm (so close to us we can breath its blue fire) that co-habits this open space of intelligence: a place without precedence where language, silence, and vision open into rather than out of the fire, where messengers carry us across to the Others. The speed of thought decolonizing among the flames as it opens itself to the Other seeping back in… in the afterglow of this freedom the door opens between worlds touching and seeing into the life of things beyond despair and hope alike.


For more information see: XYZT – Urbanomic
Follow Kristen on Facebook: Kristen Alvanson
Get XYZT: MIT Press

  1.  Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh. Omnicide: Mania, Fatality, and the Future-in-Delirium. Urbanomic/Sequence Press (May 17, 2019)

John Langan’s Sefira first impressions…

John Langan’s Sefira first impressions…

sefiraJust finished reading his novella Sefira and like where he’s going with this line of mythmaking. If your familiar with Dante’s Inferno or Milton’s Paradise Lost one feels the sense that John is developing his own vision of Hell we hope to see more of in future stories or novels. In fact in his notes he affirms this: “In teaching Dante’s Inferno over the years, and in referring to it in nearly all my classes, I had discussed the sin of betrayal as the most serious in his vision of Hell because of its perversion of those qualities specific to humanity, a view that grows more compelling to me the older I become.”

It is this theme of betrayal that is the creative engine driving this novella. We’re thrown into the midst of a small town where a typical husband and wife are undergoing a moment of transition in their lives. The husband, Gary, is no longer satisfied with his sexual relationship with his wife, Lisa. So he’s discovered the whole world of Internet porn and sex-tease sites where he allows himself to be seduced by a young woman’s rhetoric and pornographic offerings. Needless to say he is tempted to a secret rendezvous and liaison with the young woman, Sefira who has journeyed to town for a little fun. Not a good thing as Gary finds out too late this is no young woman, but rather an ancient demon in disguise – what type of demon I’ll let the reader find out for herself. His wife Lisa finds out about the affair from her nosey friends, which leads to interesting consequences, and to a story that will draw the reader deeper and deeper into a labyrinth that offers a puzzle: a slow burn of mounting details that weave the reader in between juxtaposed chapters, shifting scenarios and time frames; moving from present to future and back again. Each chapter unveiling just enough details to keep one interested and yet puzzled enough to keep the suspense and mystery of the story ongoing without ever becoming bored.

John introduces into the narrative a third character as a plot device for revealing occult information that would otherwise have seemed out of place in the novella. He provides a modern day Tarot reader and roadside clairvoyant into the mix who provides information on Sefira and the infernal realms she has come from. Her name is Madame Sosostris – a character John has inherited from T.S. Eliot who ironically introduced her in his famous modernist poem, The Wasteland. Strangely, Eliot himself borrowed the name after a character from Aldous Huxley’s comic satire novel Crome Yellow.

What we learn from Madame Sosostris is that the inferno this daemonic creature has emerged from is the “pneumasphere”:

“The afterlife,” Madame Sosostris said, “although I prefer not to use that word. ‘Afterlife’ makes the place sound separate from us. It isn’t. It intersects this world in a multitude of ways. If it weren’t so New-Age-y, I’d say it’s the spirit world. Another dimension, or plane of existence. It has its own ecology, its flora and fauna, its inhabitants. This Sefira comes from an especially ancient chamber known as the Broken Land.”

As if John had been influenced by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s notion of the rhizome we learn that the pneumasphere has no central organization, but is constructed of a “collection of connected nodes” which she describes,

 “This is how the pneumasphere is arranged. Each of its chambers is vast, a universe in and of itself. There are links among the various nodes and major events here. You mentioned Aubrey Byrne,” she said to Gary. “He and I thought it possible new chambers emerged in response to significant changes on this plane, to the ascent of new species to the top of our ecosystem. That’s the other thing about the pneumasphere: it’s reactive. Occurrences on Earth can effect conditions there. It takes something significant, something global, but a catastrophe for us has the potential to devastate the environment for them. This was the case with the Broken Land. There was a cataclysm—an asteroid struck the earth. The resulting firestorm killed off most life on the planet.”

It’s this strange vision of Hell that intrigues me and something I hope to see more of in future works by John. The notion of a pneumasphere (Pneuma (πνεῦμα) is an ancient Greek word for “breath”, and in a religious context for “spirit” or “soul”.), a vital realm where the dead exist in an imaginal zone of horror seems almost Gnostic in its intent and purpose, since John sees it as a reciprocal  influence between the two environments conditioning each other through catastrophic events of human or daemonic intrusion and intervention. Other writers like Stephen King and Clive Barker have developed Other worlds mythologies to good effect, and we hope John will further this in a larger more expansive vision or dream quest in some future epic work. I think this would be fascinating.

I’ll not say anything more about the novella itself, leaving the reader enough enticement to go out right now and buy this unique work, and I will reserve a future post for the rest of the short stories in this collection. It’s definitely worth reading, and hope you will enjoy it!


Visit John Langan: https://johnpaullangan.wordpress.com/
Buy Sefira: here!

Kristen Alvanson’s XYZT first impressions…

“It is no longer a miniature: it is life size.”

—Kristen Alvanson, XYZTXYZT1

One does not read this work as one would a novel, rather one let’s the work read you. Each vignette rises and falls from the Outside like a kaleidoscope in a holographic frame-tale – a Thousand-and-One-Nights that someone has cut-up in the fashion of a Burroughsian-Gysin dream quest. Rumi once suggested that humanity “craves winter in summer, and when winter comes, he likes it not, For he is never content with any state of things, neither with poverty not with a life of plenty.” But Rumi had not entered the imaginative poverty – which is a form of fullness – that is the subtle excess of micro-fictional universes, each touching the other one as parts to some indefinable and infinite incompleteness. To imagine where Kristen is taking you is to follow some geometry of the Mind that has no discernable pattern other than Intelligence itself under the sign of vision.


For more information see: XYZT – Urbanomic
Follow Kristen on Facebook: Kristen Alvanson
Get  XYZT: MIT Press

Ron Rash: Burning Bright – A Review

Jacob closed his eyes but did not sleep. Instead, he imagined towns where hungry men hung on boxcars looking for work that couldn’t be found, shacks where families lived who didn’t even have one swaybacked milk cow. He imagined cities where blood stained the sidewalks beneath buildings tall as ridges. He tried to imagine a place worse than where he was.
—Ron Rash, Hard Times

Finished reading Ron Rash’s first collection of short stories Burning Bright tonight. In an interview on the Daily Beast he says he lives in  Cullowhee, North Carolina where he teaches at Western Carolina University. His family is from there, and his stories arise out of that region. He’s a hard hitter, though, whose sparse prose juts up in the thick of the natural surroundings of his characters like a force of darkness. He’s able in a few observational strokes to awaken in the reader a sense of the solitude and emptiness at the core of things and of ourselves. His stories that take you down that dark road where nothing goes well in the end, and he leaves you neither calloused nor whimpering, but shocked into that knowledge of existence that makes you feel like you’d been hit with a two-by-four repeatedly. What I felt through all of the stories was a sense of pervasive fatalism, which as many know has always been a part of noirish territory; and, to be honest, these tales, though not explicitly noirs, belong to that subgenre that many are terming Country noir —a mixture of region, style, and naturalism that strips humans of their divine right, their exceptionalism and places them on equal footing with all other organic life on this predatory planet. There’s always a fine line between sentimentalism and the hard realities of life, and Rash is able to walk it without tipping the balance either way. His observations are keen and enter into the darkness with a lightness of being and tempo that belies the fierce stillness at the heart of these stories. And, I mean stillness, in the sense of emptiness — allowing things to speak for themselves, to let the gaze weave the natural and the human in a mesh without fusing the one in the other, but leaving those gaps and cracks that remain obstacles in our search to know and understand the meaning that cannot be brought into stories, yet seems to leave its aura between the lines like dark pebbles on a river bank…

Maybe this pursuit of meaning will always be illusive or even delusional if you accept the nihilistic framework of valuelessness as I do, yet even in the midst of all this emptiness one want’s answers, one needs answers to the dilemma of one’s being here. Jeff Vandemeer in one of his essays or posts about Derek Raymond — the well known writer of English noir Factory series — reminded him of a “question I had once read on a country gravestone erected to a child of six: “Since I was so early done for, I wonder what I was begun for.”” Deep down there’s something that drives us to want to know the answer to such questions, too seek out those fantastic and impossible shores of the metaphysical that we already know are pure fantasy; and, yet, it’s in this darkness and ignorance, more than knowledge of things known that existence gives us meaning —not truth, per se, but that meaning that thrives of the impossible in us.

We alone of creatures invent stories to keep the wolves at bay, to give our lives meaning and purpose that is not there to begin with. Meaning is an addition, something added to life; not in built, but constructed out of our lack, out of that hollow center of the void in our darkness and our ignorance. It’s not the clear bright trail of things visible, but those dark silences and disturbances in things that want come clean, want reveal themselves; those things that we hide from ourselves, those fragmentations and torn parts of our own being that seem to waver in the very world like shadows in a moat. Our attraction to such dark literature is this need to uncover ourselves, our own terror of the truth at the core of our own murderous heart — that, we, too, are like these monstrous prodigies of fear, hate, bigotry, spite, loneliness, and self-corrupting victimage.

We are truly our own worst enemies. It’s Rash and others like him that strip the optimistic veneer off our eyes, all the joyous festival of subterfuge that we buy into that keeps from our eyes the bittersweet knowledge below us and around us; a knowledge that at once reveals a world much more strange and frightening than we like to admit to ourselves without such means.  Our little lies of metaphysical safety nets, all our religious and secular comfort tales, our parables of bright suburbia and happiness of social and comic delights that inform our lives and keep us getting up everyday as if this was all going to last forever. In the pages of such stories as Rash and other’s we come face to face with the naked soul stripped of its uncanny valences, a world laid bare as on an operating table, where our lives are unfolded and the inner world revealed at last, with the uncharted and hidden diseases of the soul scorched from their lair, the hidden wounds of our spiritual body revealed in minute detail so that we have no place to hide anymore.

Yet, there are a few stories where Rash plays us false, seeks hope where there is none, let’s characters filter out the truth and construct a tissue of lies to keep the darkness out. Sadly this marks his writing out as middle-tier academic triteness in my own register, as if with all his progressive education he’s allowed the intonations of sociality to outweigh the harsh world of solitude and silences. I think specifically of Burning Bright, a tale that allows the main character, a woman of age, to marry and man half her age which is neither a weakness nor a plus but a subtle remark on her needs, her loneliness, her desires and lacks, a metaphysical blindness to the stark realities she sees so clearly around her but will not face. She maries a young man who is already beyond hope, mired in his own phantasmagoria of redemption through sin (in the old parlance), a corrupted and stained individual, tainted by a history of arsonism. For whom the story reveals an inner logic that slowly but inexorably attenuates and reveals at the same time the truth of his sordid ways; and, yet, the main character, the woman, who will discover the truth, remains the blind optimist, hopeful, seeking blindness rather than insight, seeking a willful ignorance and will not let him go, will not allow the truth to prevail; hiding it from herself and the Sheriff to whom she could have sided, and instead sides in a fantasy of love, a fantasy of hope that things will change for the better if only it will rain… There are other tales in which such hope remains, but I’ll let the reader look into that; it is such hope for the better in some of the tales that reveals a weakness in Rash’s vision, a quality of the progressive academic spirit showing through of which he is a University Professor. His very wavering over the title of “Appalachian writer,” in the interview I cited from the Daily Beast tells us what we need to know about his hopes and dreams. When confronted by the interviewer with the question You’ve often been described as an “Appalachian writer.”  Is that a geographic or stylistic title, or a little of both? He says:

I have mixed feelings about any adjective in front of the word “writer.”  Chekhov has talked about this, that any designation besides writer (Russian writer, whatever) was a diminishment. I’m proud to be from the region. But sometimes it seems to me that there’s an implication of “just” an Appalachian writer or “just” a Southern writer. That kind of diminishment is bothersome. If a writer is any good, he or she has to both evoke and transcend the region. Faulkner is beloved worldwide because his region, as he himself noted, was “the region where the human heart is in conflict with itself.”

This sense that being —as he states it: just an Appalachian writer or “just” a Southern writer seems to him a diminishment, when it should be a badge of honor and distinguishing part of his life and career as a writer of the people. And, that’s it, one feels this is the key — as I was reading his stories I felt this sense of being at “one remove,” of not quite being present at the crime, the reality flowing in the gaps and cracks of the tale. It’s as if he is ashamed of his heritage, of these people, of this history in subtle ways that mark them out not in parody or the grotesque as in some writers, but rather in that more insidious since of decoupling and distancing himself from the pain and suffering possibly of his own past experience; as if he is using these tales to confront his own personal experience by way of fictionalizing the history of a fantasy Carolina that he can manage. A Carolinian heritage that is part of discourse and known in books, through the lens of writing in ways that keep his own hurt, his own past repressed while allowing it out through displacement and ironic distillation and infusing’s. There is always that point where a critic has to ask whether he is reading too much into a writer’s work, or whether what he is seeing there is there. Only the confirmation or discomfirmation of other reader’s and readings will allow such judgments to come forward. And, since all literary appreciation is personal and eccentric, who is to say if the reading is correct since I do not believe in the myth of correctness of some monolithic reading that will satisfy all readers alike. This is for better or worse my reading and take on Rash’s first collection.

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Donald Ray Pollock: A Review of Knockenstiff

thnlsypg92In my research of late into Country noir I came across the name Donald Ray Pollock. Born in 1954 and raised in Knockemstiff, Ohio, Pollock has lived his entire adult life in Chillicothe, Ohio, where he worked at the Mead Paper Mill as a laborer and truck driver until age 50, when he enrolled in the English program at Ohio State University. While there, Doubleday published his debut short story collection, Knockemstiff, and the New York Times regularly posted his election dispatches from southern Ohio throughout the 2008 campaign. The Devil All the Time, his first novel, was published in 2011. His work has appeared in various literary journals, including Epoch, Sou’wester, Granta, Third Coast, River Styx, The Journal, Boulevard, Tin House, and PEN America. His newest book, a novel called The Heavenly Table, was published by Doubleday on July 12th, 2016.1 Find him on his website: http://donaldraypollock.net/

Author of three works Knockemstiff, The Devil All the Time, and The Heavenly Table 9780767928304he seems to fall into that lineage of which draws from the likes of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Harry Crews, William Gay and Daniel Woodrell, among others; and, yet, his raw power and nihilistic vision seems undaunted in its ferocious and daemonic power and depths. I just finished his collection of short stories Knockemstiff, which awakened in me that sense of the grotesque and satiric strain of those comic fatalists of horror and noir that blend that dark realism of the mean streets with the unique flavor of region and place. One knows this is caricature, not in the sense of defamation, but in the sense that each story brings out the anamorphic distortion that is slowly clarified by many readings and rereading’s. These are characters that live in that alternate realm of the Real, the daemons of certain forces that insert their voices and their lives into that dark loam of life that inhabits the cracks and gaps of our lives. The people that emerge out of the black abyss of Pollack’s daemonic America, this slice of life world of the lost, the forgotten, the poverty stricken, the lonely and lame, the creatures of an earthly hell who have never known there might be something else out there, because for them there is no there is. These are the creatures of nightmare rather than life, the ones who never attained the human, but for whatever reason came out of the wilds to remain feral and raw, violent and full of rage; and, yet, at time full of that dark longing for something, something they know must be there, something maybe just in the next love bout, death choke, dream world of escape that they just don’t see possible and feel they must be guilty of some dark stain and undeserving of such realms beyond. Then again, most of them don’t believe there is a beyond, but dip from that place of the abyss within that harbors no transcension but plenty of the raging beast of the feral mind unleashed and ready to devour the world.

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THE SECRET OF VENTRILOQUISM by Jon Padgett

the_secret_of_ventriloquism_by_jon_padgett

For those of you that don’t know Jon Padgett, he’s the progenitor of Thomas Ligotti Online a public forum for all those fans of that dark light of the grotesque and macabre, horror and weirdness. Jon a one time ventriloquist who now lives in New Orleans with his spouse, their daughter, and two cats,  has been the first publisher for a number of Ligotti’s prose works, including My Work is Not Yet Done and Crampton. His first short story collection,  The Secret of Ventriloquism  with Introduction by Thomas Ligotti, is also forthcoming – very shortly, and you can pre-order it: here at Dynatox Ministries – or from Dunhams Manor Press, May 2016. Jon was once asked how he’d become involved with Dunhams and Dynatox Ministries:

I had heard about the excellent and unusual weird fiction published by Dunhams Manor Press for the past couple of years from such superb writers as Nicole Cushing, Clint Smith, Michael Griffin, Christopher Slatsky, Willum Pugmire, Jayaprakash Sathyamurthy, Joe Pulver and John Claude Smith among others.

How did I become associated with the press? I simply wandered onto the DMP website and queried editor Jordan Krall by email (or web form — I forget). Krall quickly replied that he’d be interested in reading my work, I sent several tales to him, and soon he accepted and offered to publish my long story, THE INFUSORIUM, as a chapbook.

As Matt Cardin tells us on Teeming Brain, another excellent site to wander through for those of the weirdness (a term I use to invoke the uncertainty between the marvelous and the uncanny, yet with a slightly more pessimistic blend of speculative insouciance), Jon’s new book of short stores and essays The Secret of Ventriloquism will keep you up at nights wanting more:

With themes reminiscent of Shirley Jackson, Thomas Ligotti, and Bruno Shulz, but with a strikingly unique vision, Jon Padgett’s The Secret of Ventriloquism heralds the arrival of a significant new literary talent. Padgett’s work explores the mystery of human suffering, the agony of personal existence, and the ghastly means by which someone might achieve salvation from both. A bullied child who seeks vengeance within a bed’s hollow box spring; a lucid dreamer haunted by an impossible house; a dummy that reveals its own anatomy in 20 simple steps; a stuttering librarian who holds the key to a mill town’s unspeakable secrets; a commuter whose worldview is shattered by two words printed on a cardboard sign; an aspiring ventriloquist who spends a little too much time looking at himself in a mirror. And the presence that speaks through them all.

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction by Matt Cardin
  • The Mindfulness of Horror Practice
  • Murmurs of a Voice Foreknown
  • The Indoor Swamp
  • Origami Dreams
  • 20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism
  • Infusorium
  • Organ Void
  • The Secret of Ventriloquism

 

Pre-Order Jon’s work The Secret of Ventriloquism

 

Evgeny Morozov on The Taming of Tech Criticism

Good article by Evgeny Morozov on The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, by Nicholas Carr on The Baffler. As he admits most tech criticism has become conservative rather than radical:

A personal note is in order, since in surveying the shortcomings of thinkers such as Nicholas Carr, I’m also all too mindful of how many of them I’ve shared. For a long time, I’ve considered myself a technology critic. Thus, I must acknowledge defeat as well: contemporary technology criticism in America is an empty, vain, and inevitably conservative undertaking. At best, we are just making careers; at worst, we are just useful idiots.

Since truly radical technology criticism is a no-go zone for anyone seeking a popular audience, all we are left with is debilitating faux radicalism. Some critics do place their focus squarely on technology companies, which gives their work the air of anti-corporate populism and, perhaps, even tacit opposition to the market. This, however, does not magically turn these thinkers into radicals.

In fact, what distinguishes radical critics from their faux-radical counterparts is the lens they use for understanding Silicon Valley: the former group sees such firms as economic actors and situates them in the historical and economic context, while the latter sees them as a cultural force, an aggregation of bad ideas about society and politics. Thus, while the radical critic quickly grasps that reasoning with these companies—as if they were just another reasonable participant in the Habermasian public sphere—is pointless, the faux-radical critic shows no such awareness, penning essay after essay bemoaning their shallowness and hoping that they can eventually become ethical and responsible.


Read more: The Taming of Tech Criticism

Félix Guattari: Ecosophy and The Politics of Freedom

Guattari

Ecosophy: The Politics of Freedom

Gilles Deleuze would speak of his recently deceased friend and partner telling us that the work of Guattari remains to be discovered or rediscovered: “That is one of the best ways to keep Felix alive.”1 Maybe this is what we are doing in this reading group: discovering or rediscovering the work of Felix Guattari, and in this sense keeping his central insights alive within the matrix of possibilities we term speculative anarchism.

That The Three Ecologies was published in 1989 and seems as alive today in its critiques as the day it was penned is a testament to the truth of which his friend Deleuze speaks. That it deals with both his political and ethical vision is to be expected. Guattari was always the radical revolutionary seeking ways of emancipating others both in his medical practice and in the late cultural malaise of our capitalism. As both a committed communist and a green activist Guattari toward the end felt the need to enter the fray, to expose himself within the truth of politics and ran as a candidate for one of the political formations of the French Green movement. Even though his bid was unsuccessful it remains a high mark for the man and his politico-ethical stance and a measure of his need to realize his vision in a practice as well as theory.

The Three Ecologies is one of these pragmatic interventions into the political and ethical dilemmas of our age: the intersection of the environment, society, and subjectivity. Beyond all the usual analysis lay a his vision of neoliberalism (’Integrated World Capitalism’) as a monstrous system of ‘simulation’ (p. 31). A copy of a copy, a false world of symbols and references that simulate reality but instead entrap us within the clutches of its broken fabrications. Zizek will call this false world of simulations the big Other, or the symbolic order that enfolds us in an inverse register of Plato’s true world. As Zizek will say of Lacan, that he unveiled the illusions on which capitalist reality as well as its false transgressions are based, but in the end resined himself to the plight of humans at the hands of this neoliberal order: the final result being that we are condemned to domination— the Master is the constitutive ingredient of the very symbolic order, so the attempts to overcome domination only generate new figures of the Master. Against this Zizek will tell us that the great task of those who are ready to go through Lacan is thus to articulate the space for a revolt which will not be recaptured by one or another version of the discourse of the Master.2 We should say the same of Guattari. Those who are ready to go through Guattari is thus to articulate a site within which the political and ethical dilemmas of our ecosophic vision will open toward freedom rather than the capture or recapture of its potentials by the big Other of neoliberalism.

For Guattari ecosophy is first and foremost a reframing of the problematics of the world. As he will tell us the main issue facing us is not to return to abstract reductionist scenarios that lead to new charismatic leaders, rather ecosophy concerns itself with the problematical relations in which the production of human existence itself can arise within new historical contexts. At one point he will affirm that social ecosophy will consist in developing specific practices that will modify and reinvent the ways in which we live as couples or in the family, in an urban context or at work, etc.(ibid. 34) Does Guattari see us remaining within the confines of the capitalist matrix while doing this? So that ecosophy will work at the micro level of family rather than at the larger level of class dynamics, etc.? Rather than clinging to general recommendations we should be implementing effective practices of experimentation, as much on a microsocial level as on a larger institutional scale. (ibid. 35)

Guattari will begin at the base level of a theory of the Subject, or with the components of subjectification. For him there is a difference between the individual as person and the notion of subjectivity as such. The individual is the core site, the ‘terminal’ node or end point for processes that involve human groups, socio-economic ensembles, data-processing, etc. This notion of the individual as the endpoint of a network of information and relations is obverse to that of subjectification, which for Guattari is an aesthetic ethical perspective incorporating ecosophy in its three forms of the social, enviromental, mental. One could think of this in the same ways as the Medieval Borromean rings in which each of these levels-of-abstranction (LoV’s) overlaps the other in such a way that they form a knot. Depending upon one’s point of view or level of abstraction the specific area or region delimits a set of problems rather than solutions. As one moves through the knot one shifts focus and realizes that the regions are all part of a larger nexus seen only under the guise of singular moments of organization and detail. Ultimately Guattari used this is a teaching tool, a way of organizing the domains of knowledge and problems to awaken people from their lethargy. Point blankly he tell us that we must kick the habit of sedative discourse, and be able to shift or oscillate between the differing perspectives of the ecosophic lens.(ibid. 42) Rather than a static approach this takes a more dialectical path incorporating parallax perspectives in their processual and immanent development rather than some outer objective accumulation of facts. The inner dynamics of flows and intensities, rather than the static appraisal of substance and being.

With the emergence of our artificial world of cyberspace, biogenetics, and speed (Virilio) Guattari admonishes that we must accept this as a condition of any new praxis rather than trying to escape into some mythical past of the pre-critical worlds. The very condition of our socius and technological realms must be the starting point for ecosophy. He relates this to Alan Bombard’s experiment with an octupus in which he filled two containers: one with pure unpolluted water, the other with the polluted water from the local seaport. What transpired is that the animal survived fine in the polluted water, and within just a few minutes of being transferred to the unpolluted tank suddenly curled up, sank, and died. The notion here is that we cannot situate ourselves in some false theoretical world of ideas from which to rebuild our present world, instead we must situate any pragmatic undertaking within the very vectors of subjectification that order our present actual world.

Instead of separating and reducing the world to abstract categories of culture and nature, etc., we must begin to think ‘transversally’. To think transversally is to enact the logic of intensities, of auto-referential existential assemblages engaging in irreversible durations. This is a logic of both humans as subjects constituted totalized bodies, but is also of them as – in the psychoanalytical sense, as partial objects; or, as in Winnicott, transitional objects, institutional or otherwise. To think transversally is to think through the movement and intensity of evolving processes. In this sense process as Guattari uses it should be opposed to structure or system, and seen rather as the capture of existence in the moment of its constitution, delimitation, and deterritorialization. Ultimately at the heart of all ecological praxis is a sense of “an a-signifying rupture, in which the catalysts of existential change are close at hand, but lack the expressive support from the assemblage of enunciation; they therefore remain passive and are in danger of losing their consistency…”(ibid. 44)

To understand the way in which the Global Integrated System of Capital has captured and constituted our present artificial matrix or symbolic order Guattari developed four semiotic regimes within which to define its basic operations:

(l) Economic semiotics (monetary, financial, accounting and decision-making mechanisms) ;
(2) Juridical semiotics (title deeds, legislation and regulations of all kinds);
(3) Techno-scientific semiotics (plans, diagrams, programmes, studies, research, etc.);
(4) Semiotics of subjectification, of which some coincide with those already mentioned, but to which we should add many others, such as those relating to architecture, town planning, public facilities, etc.

As one studies the matrix of signs that is present day capitalism one must not lose sight he reminds us that it has become delocalized, and permeates the whole planet rather than being localized within a particular national context. Rather than looking for a stupefying and infantilizing consensus, it will be a question in the future of cultivating a dissensus and the singularities in production of existence and subjectification. A capitalistic subjectivity is engendered through operators of all types and sizes, and is manufactured to protect existence from any intrusion of events that might disturb or disrupt public opinion. As he explains it:

“It seems to me essential to organize new micropolitical and microsocial practices, new solidarities, a new gentleness, together with new aesthetic and new analytic practices regarding the formation of t}e unconscious. It appears to me that this is the only possible way to get social and political practices back on their feet, working for humanity and not simply for a permanent reequilibration of the capitalist semiotic Universe.” (ibid. 52)

Against any false sense of reconciliation Guattari affirms our need to accept struggle and disequilibrium, to affirm it and move not toward a reconciliation of opposites but rather to keep with the tensions and bifurcations, the gaps that present the antinomic anomalies. It is in these anomalous gaps that the new artist laborer begins to make his/her initial project drift far from its previous path, however certain it had once appeared to be. There is a proverb ‘the exception proves the rule’, but the exception can just as easily deflect the rule, or even recreate it. (ibid. 53) The aim of ecosophy is the setting forth the principle antimonies between the ecosophical levels, or, if you prefer, between the three ecological visions, the three discriminating lenses. (ibid. 54)

Against any return to a psychoanalytical modeling Guattari tells us what is needed is for us to face up to the logic of desiring ambivalence wherever it emerges – in culture, everyday life, work, sport, etc. – in order to reevaluate the purpose of work and of human activities according to different criteria than those of profit and yield. (ibid. 57) As he states it:

“Rather than tirelessly implementing procedures of censorship and contention in the name of great moral principles we should learn how to promote a true ecology of the phantasm, one that works through transference, translation and redeployment of their matters of expression.” (ibid. 58)

The point here is that for the most part the great religions of the world have lost their hold on the great majority of humans, and in this secular sphere of capital violence and other asocial manifestations we are no longer bound to the education and socialization procedures of primitive agricultural systems, but rather what we are seeing in everyday life a return to a totemic and animistic vision within the lives of singular citizens based on a hyper-technological fantasia of power and control. Societies are no longer bound to the grand narratives of past ages, but are splintering into subcultural enclaves of dissipative mythologies and schizo-cultures based on hyper-mediatainment networks of music and video that like the turbulent systems of nonlinear dynamics flow into hyper-intensities of flux and instability.

Even as the religious impulse seeks self-fulfilling prophecies of catastrophe and apocalypse in the major religions, the eco-revolutionary fronts seek to control the green movements with apocalyptic myths of climate catastrophe. We fill the unknowns, the gaps and cracks of the future with terror and horrific images, creating movies of the doom that become instant best sellers. Yet, the fictional portrayal of this doomed future scenario leaves people passive, alone, and apathetic rather than disturbing their inner subjectification for change. We speak of change but moment by moment we do nothing more than repeat this truth in the echo chamber of our cultural fantasias.

Guattari saw the unconscious not as theatre but as a factory. A factory that produced machinic processes in a plural form of subjectification through singularization. This process of psychogenesis was itself the development of becomings that formed singularties. The point of Guattari’s schizoanalytical ecosophy was to break the molds of organization that trapped us in the realms of domination and control, and instead to open subjectivities to the flow and intensities of the Real. As his friend Bifo Berardi says, Guattari hoped to “reopen the channel of communication between the individual drift and the cosmic game”.

What has transpired in the neoliberal regime is the construction through education, media, etc., three forms of subjectivity: a serial subjectivity corresponding to the salaried classes, secondly, a form corresponding to the huge mass of the ‘uninsured’, and finally an elitist subjectivity corresponding to the executive sectors. (ibid. 61) Guattari seems to take a pragmatic approach and acceptance of capitalism, and defines the task of any ecosophy as encouraging capitalist societies to make the transition from the mass-media era to a post-media age, in which the media will be reappropriated by a multitude of subject-groups capable of directing its re-singularization.(ibid. 58)

What guides this transformation is the notion of systems of valorization which allow for new modes of being and singularization to arise. Even in the Third-World thousands of value-system revolutions are progressively percolating their way up through society and it is up to the new ecological components to polarize them and to affirm their importance within the political and social relations of force.(ibid. 62) As he tells us rather than remaining subject, in perpetuity, to the seductive efficiency of economic competition, we must re-appropriate Universes of value, so that processes of singularization can rediscover their consistency. We need new social and aesthetic practices, new practices of the Self in relation to the other, to the foreign, the strange… (ibid. 68) Ultimately Guattari seeks the reconquest of a degree of creative autonomy – the catalyst for a gradual reforging and renewal of humanity’s confidence in itself.

1. Franco Berardi. Felix Guattari: Thought, Friendship, and Visionary Cartography
2. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 616-620). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Pussy Riot: The Prison Letters of Nadya and Slavoj

 What is a modest Pussy Riot obscene provocation in a church compared to the accusation against Pussy Riot, this gigantic obscene provocation of the state apparatus which mocks any notion of decent law and order?

– Slavoj Zizek

Michael Levin tell us he came to Harvard School of Government recently (09/16/2014 posted) to observe two young women from Russian: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria (Mosha) Alyokhina of Pussy Riot fame. Reading his blog post (HuffPost College: post) one is struck both by the naiveté of his critique, and its liberal progressive tendencies. He castigates them for not being liberal progressive protesters and upholding the typical critiques of power and dominion as laid down by the Western agendas. Instead they speak of the prisoner’s rights, immigration restrictions, the “brain drain” on Russian by the current regime, and a return of Christianity from its Stalinist Capital heirs to the actual people of Russia. In a last gaff, Levin throws out a limpid lambast at the two young women:

If you’re going to stand for something in today’s world, you have to declare a major. It doesn’t work to hoist the banner for every cause, no matter how noble, because you end up dissipating the energy that brought you — and your followers — to the spotlight to begin with. The last time a protest movement sought to be all-encompassing, it was Occupy, and we all know how that turned out. (here)

That Levin’s luke-warm jive of Occupy and the wrongheaded equation of it with Pussy Riot becomes clear as one reads the letters between Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Slavoj Zizek Comradely Greetings: The Prison Letters of Nadya and SlavojIn it we become reacquainted with the act of political protest that landed them in the gulag system to begin with: Pussy Riot members in their red, blue, orange, yellow , and violet balaclavas entered the new Christian Cathedral in Moscow, took off their coats, revealing their brightly colored dresses and tights and proceeded to sing a “punk prayer” to the Queen Mother, Mary. The female maintenance staff started to panic and called security. One security guard hurried across, tackled a young woman holding a guitar and pulled her away. He returned to grab hold of a loudspeaker. Church employees attempted to intercept the other four. But they had already begun their twenty-verse “punk prayer,” whose refrain is “Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Banish Putin.”1

After two years Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina were freed on December 23, 2013, when Putin released them two months early in order to open his Winter Olympics in Sochi. During her imprisonment she expressed her interest in meeting Slavoj Zizek after reading his book on “Violence”. As she describes her first year in the new gulag at Mordovia:

It has been a year since I arrived at Penal Colony No. 14 [PC-14] in the Mordovian village of Partsa. As the women convicts say, “Those who haven’t done time in Mordovia haven’t done time at all.”2

Reading of her trials and tribulations within the new Russia one discovers just how brutal it’s become. Or is it that the old system never went away? As we discover one of the warden’s affirms that he is still a “Stalinist”:

My first impression of Mordovia was the words uttered by the prison’s deputy warden, Lieutenant Colonel Kupriyanov, who actually runs PC-14. “You should know that when it comes to politics, I am a Stalinist.”3

What struck me is a comparison with the brutalization in the American Penal System, which shows some of the same classic earmarks of inmate brutality and survival mechanisms. As she discovers over time the prison is enforced not by the wardens, but through a brutal regime of inmate terror and fear. The inmates enforce their own brutalization on each other when quotas and other issues come about. If one tries to stand up against the system, or tries to inform those outside the system about the atrocities of its lawlessness the very inmates turn against one another to the point of murder, torcher, and animalistic behavior. As she states it:

Conditions at the prison really are organized in such a way that the inmates in charge of the work shifts and dorm units are the ones tasked by the wardens with crushing the will of inmates, terrorizing them, and turning them into speechless slaves.4

 She provides example after example of atrocities purported upon inmates by other inmates to keep them in line, or the punishment of units, or even the whole prison: forcing inmates to live in the open under freezing conditions, starving them, forcing them to work sixteen hour days, forcing them to remain at their sewing machines unable to pee, enforced hazing and beatings at the hands of inmates to scared not to comply with their own leaders, etc. She speaks of a gypsy woman killed in a beating in a rival unit:

It’s true: other prisoners are beaten up. For not being able to keep up. They hit them in the kidneys, in the face. Convicts themselves deliver these beatings and not a single one of them happens without the approval and knowledge of the wardens. A year ago, before I came here, a Gypsy woman was beaten to death in the third unit. (The third unit is the “pressure cooker”: prisoners whom the wardens want subjected to daily beatings are sent there.) She died in the infirmary at PC-14.5

 When Nadya tells her lawyer of the conditions and the problems he puts in a formal complaint which turns against her intentions when the wardens learn of it and impose even harsher conditions on her entire prison forcing convicts close to the wardens incited the unit to violence. The warden tells them: 

“You’ve been punished by having tea and food, bathroom breaks, and smoking banned for a week. And now you’re always going to be punished unless you start treating the newcomers , especially Tolokonnikova, differently. Treat them like the old-timers used to treat you back in the day . Did they beat you up? Of course they did. Did they rip your mouths? They did. Fuck them up. You won’t be punished for it.”6

In the end she declared a hunger strike, saying:

I declare a hunger strike and refuse to be involved in the slave labor at the prison until the administration complies with the law and treats women convicts not like cattle banished from the legal realm for the needs of the garment industry, but like human beings.7

 Zizek in response to this courageous young woman will answer the call and begin a series of personal letters (that on both sides is carried on through translation and a restrictive lens of the overseers themselves – as the wardens read all letters, emails, etc. and impose their martial regulatory gaze upon them).

Zizek in his opening letter will greet Nadya, saying:

Against all postmodern cynics, you demonstrate that ethical-political engagement is needed more than ever. So please ignore enemies and false friends who pity you as punk provocateurs who deserve mere clemency. You are not helpless victims calling for sympathy and mercy, you are fighters calling for solidarity in struggle.8

Of course Zizek is showing forth his version of this old form stating in his Sublime Object of Ideology that cynicism is the answer of the ruling culture to the cynical subversion of its ideological universality, while keeping the mask of it in place and allowing the imposition of its heritage to remain in place even as it castigates it on the surface. As he says:

This cynicism is not a direct position of immorality, it is more like morality itself put in the service of immorality — the model of cynical wisdom is to conceive probity, integrity, as a supreme form of dishonesty, and morals as a supreme form of profligacy, the truth as the most effective form of a lie. This cynicism is therefore a kind of perverted ‘negation of the negation’ of the official ideology: confronted with illegal enrichment, with robbery, the cynical reaction consists in saying that legal enrichment is a lot more effective and, moreover, protected by the law.9

One sees this in outgoing President Medvedev’s statement to the press:

“I wouldn’t have sent them to jail if I had been the judge. I simply don’t think that’s right because these girls had already served a prison sentence. And actually that should have been enough. The fact that one has been released is fortunate … but it’s not up to me, rather to the courts and their lawyers. They have the right to appeal, and I think they should and let the courts consider the case on it own merits.”10

On the surface he makes a moral plea, but underneath this stance of protest on the part of a system representative we see the cynical face of the new Russia imposing its harsh realities while at the same time telling us it is not right or moral, etc.

But Zizek will not stop there in his next letter he’ll tackle the liberal progressive critics for their attack on Pussy Riot for turning against Global Capitalism. He will then make his pointed attack plain, saying: “What makes Pussy Riot so disturbing for the liberal gaze is the way you reveal a hidden continuity between Stalinism and contemporary global capitalism.”

Zizek will take up the whole imposition of austerity across the Continent with its tendency to both destroy and dismantle the old social security systems and safety valves of the democratic processes, while allowing the elite and their banks to gain utter power over the populace through a sophistry of arguments that are at once moral seeming and in actuality Stalinist measures of total authoritarianism. He will go on saying that Pussy Riot symbolizes the truth, the spirit of our age in the Hegelian sense, embodying the critique that not only do the experts have no clue, but the ruling elite themselves are powerless to solve the world situation.

In her response to Zizek’s first letter she will reiterate her Nietzschean and youthful stance, saying, “we’re the children of Dionysus, floating by in a barrel, accepting nobody’s authority . We’re on the side of those who don’t offer final answers or transcendent truths. Our mission, rather, is the asking of questions (KL 407)”. Influenced by Heraclitus and Berdyaev Nadya will offer a vision of hope from the world of fire and transformation against aspects of Zizek’s more dialectical materialism. Berdyaev’s almost gnostic sense of a rebellion against the powers of the world in high places sings out of her letter. Of course Nikolai Berdyaev, a Russian Orthodox propounded his own Christian oriented vision of earthly revolt. In the letter she will quote him: “Christianity itself is to me the embodiment of the revolt against the world and its laws and fashions.” (KL 417)

Against the notion of experts having the answers to the dilemmas of the world  she says: “Cultural competence and sensitivity to the Zeitgeist don’t come with a college diploma or live in an administrator’s briefcase. You need to know which way to point the map” (KL 441). Against experts she offers the “Dionysians, the unmediated ones, those drawn to what’s different and new, seeking movement and inspiration over dogmas and immutable statutes. The innocents, in other words, the speakers of truth. (KL 446)” Yet, she herself admits that she has no answers. The dilemmas between the experts and the innocents remains, and the only thing she hopes for is an almost salvatory vision of “Herod’s daughter” who may come, one bearing hope and truth, etc., saying those “who live their lives entirely within the gift economy, will always receive a miracle at the exact moment they need it” (KL 453).

In response to this letter Zizek will remember Trotsky’s dream of Lenin in which Lenin does not know that he is dead. For Zizek it has a two-fold meaning: on the one hand it aligns with the notion that we must slough off the old utopianism, let it die a final death; and, on the other, that what must remain alive in Leninism is not the utopian dream, but its Idea, what “Alain Badiou calls the “eternal Idea” of universal emancipation, the immortal striving for justice that no insult or catastrophe will manage to kill— Lenin lives wherever there are people who still fight for the same Idea.” (KL 478-480)

Zizek will argue that in our time it is the experts who have become the utopianists, who would keep things in stasis, bring the world under one rule, one law, one movement of power and logic: “Experts are by definition the servants of those in power: they don’t really THINK, they just apply their knowledge to problems defined by the powerful…” (KL 488) Zizek in a critique of her Nietzschean opposition of Dionysus/Apollo or Flux/Order invocation will remind her that it does not go enough, that what is needed is “not just to shake people out of their complacent inertia, but to change the very coordinates of social reality such that, when things return to normal, there will be a new, more satisfying “Apollonian equilibrium.” (KL 508)”

He will launch into his latest critique of “late capitalism”, using Brian Massumi’s idea of affective capitalism saying:

It’s no longer disciplinary institutional power that defines everything, it’s capitalism’s power to produce variety— because markets get saturated. Produce variety and you produce a niche market. The oddest of affective tendencies are okay— as long as they pay. Capitalism starts intensifying or diversifying affect, but only in order to extract surplus-value . It hijacks affect in order to intensify profit potential. It literally valorizes affect. The capitalist logic of surplus-value production starts to take over the relational field that is also the domain of political ecology, the ethical field of resistance to identity and predictable paths. It’s very troubling and confusing, because it seems to me that there’s been a certain kind of convergence between the dynamic of capitalist power and the dynamic of resistance.(KL 513)

Affective Economy as the mode of generating emotional investment in variety is at the heart of this new economy. The notion here is that one cannot subvert what has already internalized its own subversion as a permanent revolt, instead “late capitalism” defines itself now in normal terms of a carnivalized economy, “with its constant reversals, crises, and reinventions, such that it is now the critique of capitalism, from a “stable” ethical position, which increasingly appears as the exception” (KL 531).

Yet, Nadya in her response will agree that maybe their right, but that they forget the other side of the equation, the losers, the outcast and third-world slaves of this new economy:

…the logic of totalizing normality still has to continue its work in those places whose industrial bases are used to shore up everything dynamic, adaptable, and incipient in late capitalism. And here, in this other world hidden from view, the governing logic is one of absolutely rigid standards, of stability reinforced with steel. Erratic behavior is not tolerated from workers here; homogeneity and stagnation rule. No wonder authoritarian China has emerged as a world economic leader.(KL 565-569)

 She will take exception to Zizek’s “distrust of thinking that is posited within the frameworks of binary oppositions, and even insist on the use of such binaries as a heuristic— one that is situational and, when it must be, even burlesque” (KL 573). What is interesting next is that she will point out Zizek’s own male chauvinism, saying in response to his sympathy at her plight while he is in a privileged position of male power outside the situation: 

“Don’t waste your time worrying about giving in to theoretical fabrications while I supposedly suffer ‘empirical deprivations.’ ” (KL 594)

Zizek will apologize for this flaw in his character: “my sincere apologies for this proof of how deeply entrenched male chauvinism can be, especially when it is masked as sympathy for the other’s suffering, and let me go on with our dialogue” (KL 559).

In this letter he will contrast the two visions of Hardt/Negri – with their reliance on a Deleuzian/Guattari rhizomatic vision of “cognitive capitalism” as totally deterriolized and opening up a creativity that cannot be contained or mastered; against, Franco Berardi’s vision of doom and impotence, in which the only way out is to abandon the machine, the world of capitalism through small aggressive communities withdrawing from its system of economics. Zizek will comment:

Berardi, only withdrawal, passivity, and the abandonment of illusions can open up a new way: “Only self-reliant communities leaving the field of social competition can open a way to a new hope.” I, of course, do not follow him here, but I do share his skepticism about chaotic resistance. I am more and more convinced that what really matters is what happens the day after: can we convince the tired and manipulated crowds that we are not only ready to undermine the existing order, to engage in provocative acts of resistance, but are also able to offer the prospect of a new order? (KL 649-653)

In her next letter Nadya will respond to Zizek’s male chauvinist apology, and its inherent inability to address the differences in regional exceptions to the capitalist agenda with a question: “what are the acceptable limits of tolerance? When does it cease to be tolerance and become instead collaborationism, conformism, even criminal complicity?” (KL 702) Here she questions the U.S.A.’s complicity in dealing with Russian and China and overlooking its internal atrocities against its citizens or former satellites.  Against the notion of global capitalism in Left critiques she offers instead that they “set aside their colonial Eurocentrism and consider global capitalism in its entirety, encompassing all regional variants” (KL 720).

Countering this attack on universalism Zizek will say yes, yes, by all means we must fight in the diversity, yet we must not forget the Hegelian notion of totality which does not mean some false notion of organic whole, but is instead to realize it as a “critical notion— to “locate a phenomenon in its totality” does not mean to see the hidden harmony of the Whole, but to include in a system all its distortions (“ symptoms,” antagonisms, inconsistencies) as its integral parts. In other words, the Hegelian totality is by definition “self-contradictory,” antagonistic, inconsistent: the “Whole” which is the “True” (Hegel: “das Ganze is das Wahre”) is the Whole plus its symptoms, the unintended consequences which betray its untruth. (KL 753-757)” His point being that in dialectical materialism as he sees it “the Whole is never truly whole: every notion of the Whole leaves something out, and the dialectical effort is precisely the effort to include this excess, to account for it” (KL 759).

 Against the backdrop of global capitalism each country reacts in its own way, but the “general tendency of contemporary capitalism is towards further expansion of the reign of the market, combined with progressive enclosures of public space, sweeping cuts in public services, and a rising authoritarianism in the functioning of political power” (KL 781-783). The truth is that democracy in our time is failing everywhere not do to the economic system, but rather due to a failure to any longer believe in the elite experts and their monetary sponsors to actually fix things. Instead we are slowly waking up to the truth that without true leadership people follow not their desires but rather their animalistic habits. He will respond with his notions that instead we need a figure, a Master to call us out of our habits, engendering in us true desires for an emancipatory world. Yet, the temptation here is between the excess of the Master that leads to the false totalitarian world, or the one that inspires in people to take on the responsibility of living in a non-totalitarian world of conflict and negotiation.

Speaking of Nelson Mandela and his legacy as an example, he says:

We can also safely surmise that, on account of his undoubted moral and political greatness, he was at the end of his life aware of how his very political triumph and elevation into a universal hero was itself the mask of a bitter defeat. His universal glory is but a sign that he didn’t really disturb the global order of power— which certainly cannot be said of Pussy Riot. (KL 898-901).

In her next letter she admits she has finally been freed. She and her partners have also founded Zona Prava a new organization to promote and help prison inmates and to retrain the overseers (the wardens). She sees it as a commitment to those who have suffered in silence for too long, especially taking on the task of helping both her former inmates and all women in prison. She mentions the different uprisings in Russia (May 6th) and other issues and concerns surrounding the imprisonment of radicals, journalists, and all who speak the truth. Reading her one realizes that prison gave her a new opportunity and task, rather than closing off her mind it opened her eyes to a need, a new way to help locally her own people both politically and spiritually. One is reminded of activist Angela Davis in the States and her years of working for African-American rights in prisons and the issues surrounding this new form of apartheid within America, etc.  

In his final letter to Nadya on her freedom he will bring everything back to his point about the true idea of the universal: “it is absolutely crucial to insist on the universality of our struggle. The moment we forget that Pussy Riot and WikiLeaks are moments of the same global struggle, everything is lost, we have sold our soul to the devil” (KL 1074).

Reading the short book was well worth the effort. Not much new in Zizek’s repeat of central ideas he’s gone over in his recent Less Than Nothing and Absolute Recoil. What was more important was the meeting of two minds sharing their diverse feminine and masculine struggles in dialogue. This sense that we must begin talking again to each other rather than critiquing is important. Without a sense of dialogue, of communication the world loses value. In this sense the Kantian tradition of critique is dead on arrival. What is needed now is people conversing and struggling together in concert across the planet. Politics must be taken back into the streets, into the local spaces of one’s life and realized in personal ways and tasks (as in Nadya’s creation of a intervention into prison systems, etc.). For Zizek the struggle of the commons against the empire of global capitalism starts and ends with the human face of its actors who need the right push to awaken out of their capitalist sleep.

1. Zizek, Slavoj; Tolokonnikova, Nadezhda (2014-09-30). Comradely Greetings: The Prison Letters of Nadya and Slavoj (Kindle Locations 50-54). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
2. ibid. (KL 173)
3. ibid. (KL 179)
4. ibid. (KL 198)
5. ibid. (KL 234)
6. ibid. (KL 294)
7. ibid. (KL 305)
8. ibid. (KL 325)
9. The Sublime Object of Ideology (London; New York: Verso, 1989), pp. 28-30.
10. (in Russian). Gazeta.ru. 2 November 2012. Archived from the original on 2 July 2013. Retrieved 2 July 2013
11. ibid. (KL 350)

 

 

 

 

 

Slavoj Zizek: Apostle of the Void

Arnold Schoenberg’s … work was unbearably shattering, a key part of the modernist breakthrough— the only true artistic Event of the twentieth century (whatever it is, postmodernism is not an Event).

–  Zizek, Slavoj Absolute Recoil

I decided to reread John Barth’s classic postmodern essay “The Literature of Exhaustion”, where what is touted is not the decay of literature but its emergence as literary virtuosity. In this essay Barth will defend the work of Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, and Vladimir Nabokov as virtuosi, as confronting intellectual and artistic dead ends and employing them against themselves to create new human work.1 Barth will mention one of Borges fables in which Shakespeare is on his death-bed, and having already exhausted the possibilities of dramatic form in all its various guises, as well as having himself become in his life everyone and no one, he asks God to allow him to be one and himself. God in his almost ironic distaste answers Shakespeare from the whirlwind saying: “I, too, have been no one either.” Borges in his own subtle irony will deploy the fable of Proteus who has in all its infinite play “exhausted the guises of reality” and found that it, too, is nothing and no one. What we are left with is the dance of the Void: the production of reality is this very voidic play in all its infinite guises, a mask for what Zizek will term the gap: the void of subjectivity “that eludes … form and is as such constituted by it, as its remainder”.1

This notion of negation and virtuosity comes to mind in my reading of Slavoj Zizek’s Interlude I in his new work, Absolute Recoil. Zizek in this small essay will take on the virtuosity of Arnold Schoenberg. I must admit reading this essay brought me back to my early love of music, art, literature, etc. Zizek is one of those creatures who cannibalizes everything, who seems on the surface to be a piranha of the arts and philosophy, gobbling everything in site; yet, to a purpose. Everything he does is calculated to teach. Reading Zizek is like sitting in a classroom where the professor having spent his whole life in a Borgesian library has engulfed its riches and has now the terrible duty to guide his wayward and almost imbecilic pupils through the first stages of this vast labyrinth of knowledge. Yet, this would be false, too. For there is a method in his madness. Everything Zizek does is to counter such strange relations of the Master/Epigoni mythos, and instead he speaks only to those few who have already earned the right to listen in on his monologues; for, in truth, Zizek’s books are dramatic monologues taking place between actors in his own mind that he allows others to listen in on. Robert Browning would have understood this.

I’m not being deprecatory here, just seeing what is going on in this “dialectical materialism” as praxis. He isn’t explaining dialectical materialism, instead he is enacting it in performative virtuosity of an exemplary movement between the various cultural and social actors, artifacts and artifices he takes up and deploys as examples.

In Schoenberg we witness the figure of an Event around which Zizek’s monologue on the void of the subject will endlessly dance. In his previous chapter he exposed most of Hegelian commentators standard readings and misunderstandings of the dialectic:

The beginning of Hegel’s logic as well as the beginning of his “logic of essence” which deals with the notion of reflection are just two, though crucial, examples that demonstrate how misleading, even outright wrong, is the standard notion of the dialectical process which begins with a positive entity, then negates it, and finally negates this negation itself, returning at a higher level to the positive starting point. Here we see a quite different logic: we begin with nothing, and it is only through the self-negation of nothing that something appears. (154)2

Here he describes the standard commentary on Hegelian dialectics that starts with a positivity, whereas for Zizek one must start instead with “nothing” and then work through “the self-negation of nothing” till something appears. “The only full case of absolute recoil, of a thing emerging through its very loss, is thus that of the subject itself, as the outcome of its own impossibility” (150). He’ll elaborate:

Absoluter Gegenstoss thus stands for the radical coincidence of opposites in which the action appears as its own counter-action, or, more precisely, in which the negative move (loss, withdrawal) itself generates what it “negates.”“What is found only comes to be through being left behind,” and its inversion (it is “only in the return itself” that what we return to emerges, like nations who constitute themselves by way of “returning to their lost roots”) are the two sides of what Hegel calls “absolute reflection”: a reflection which is no longer external to its object, presupposing it as given, but which, as it were, closes the loop and posits its own presupposition. To put it in Derridean terms, the condition of possibility is here radically and simultaneously the condition of impossibility: the very obstacle to the full assertion of our identity opens up the space for it.(148)

To embellish this argument he will take up the work of Arnold Schoenberg’s work Erwatung (Op. 17, composed 1909): 

Erwartung is a double Event, maximal and minimal. First, it was a turning point in the history of music: nothing remained the same after Erwartung, the coordinates of the entire musical landscape were transformed.(158)

In Chapter Two he took up the concept of Event in detail. He will contrast two variant readings of this concept of the Event, one in the work of Frank Ruda, the other in his friend Alain Badiou. Ruda will offer the notion that it all begins with the contingent and unpredictable event itself— an encounter between two people that both of them experience as a shattering provocation: their lives are thrown off the rails . The two have to react, and here comes the free decision: will they say yes to the event, assume it as their destiny, or will they ignore it? If the latter , life will go on as usual, but if they say yes to it, they constitute themselves as a subject, (re) organizing their entire life around the event— in short, out of fidelity to the event, they engage in the long and arduous work of love. (74) While for Badiou on the contrary, the subject is not the agent of a free choice, but the result of a positive free choice— a subject emerges after the choice of fidelity to an event, it is the agent which engages itself in the work of enforcing the consequences of an event. Furthermore, common sense tells us that free choice and forced choice are opposed and mutually exclusive, but for Badiou, a truly free choice is a forced one. (74)

The notion here is the idea of the subject either precedes the event (Ruda), or emerges in retroactive “fidelity to the event” that has already occurred: the notion of enforcing this fidelity to the event by working through its consequences in a moral way (“free choice is a forced one”). This will go back to one of Zizek’s leitmotif’s (“lack”):

This paradoxical reversal (of the common-sense logic which tells us that a positive entity has to precede its lack) defines the space of subjectivity from the Hegelian and Lacanian perspective: a “subject” is something that “is” its own lack, something that emerges out of its own impossibility, something that only persists as “barred.” (80)

 Zizek will of course give example after example in various contexts to guide the intractable pupil through his maze of simplicity; for in the end, it always harkens back to Den, Nothing, and the nothingness that gives us something, etc. The Gap as the nothingness around which we dance and play our ideas in endless combat, etc. It is this theme which will define World War I, which according to Zizek was a reactionary defense of the old world against modernism as defined in all those avant garde artists in literature— from Kafka to Joyce; in music— Schoenberg and Stravinsky; in painting— Picasso, Malevich, Kandinsky; psychoanalysis; relativity theory and quantum physics; the rise of Social Democracy …). This rupture— condensed in 1913, the annus mirabilis of the artistic vanguard— was so radical in its opening up of new spaces that, in our speculative historiography, it is tempting to claim that the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 was, from the “spiritual” standpoint, a reaction to this Event. Or, to paraphrase Hegel, the horror of World War I was the price humanity had to pay for the immortal artistic revolution of the years just prior to the war. In other words, we must invert the pseudo-profound insight according to which Schoenberg et al. prefigured the horrors of twentieth-century war: what if the true Event was 1913? It is crucial to focus on this intermediate explosive moment, between the complacency of the late nineteenth century and the catastrophe of World War I— 1914 was not an awakening, but the forceful and violent return of a patriotic slumber destined to block the true awakening. The fact that the fascists and other patriots hated the vanguard entartete Kunst is not a marginal detail but a key feature of fascism. (157-159)

Against the rich Romantic traditions of tonal music Schoenberg would work through the beginnings of atonal and onward to what he would term a “pantonal” music, one that would enact for Zizek the example of Lacan’s misreading of Freud’s “Unconscious” as in alignment with such music as “an unbearable truth I have to learn to live with:

The unconscious is neither the primordial nor the instinctual, and what it knows of the elemental is no more than the elements of the signifier … The intolerable scandal when Freudian sexuality was not yet holy was that it was so “intellectual.” It was in this respect that it showed itself to be the worthy stooge of all those terrorists whose plots were going to ruin society. (Lacan Jacques Lacan, Écrits, New York: Norton 2006, pp. 434– 5.) (Zizek, 176)

 One could do no better to sum up this interlude than Zizek rendering his notion of a truly materialist formalism:

In a truly materialist formalism, one should thus invert the relationship between form and content, following Fredric Jameson’s famous analysis of Hemingway in which he pointed out that Hemingway did not write short terse sentences in order to render the isolated heroic individuality of his heroes— form comes first, he invented the isolated heroic individuality to be able to write in a certain way. And the same goes for Schoenberg : he did not take the fateful step into atonality in order to express in music the extremes of morbid hysterical violence; he chose the topic of hysteria because it fitted atonal music.(169)

Instead of the expression of some substantial essence or inner kernel of things, one retroactively defines one’s forms against the fidelity to an event, discovering in those events the forms that will work through its masks. He will liken this to Freud’s dream work:

The paradox is that the dream-work is not merely a process of masking the dream’s “true message”: the dream’s true core, its unconscious wish, inscribes itself only through and in this very process of masking, so that the moment we retranslate the dream-content back into the dream-thought expressed in it we lose the “true motif force” of the dream— in short, it is the process of masking itself which inscribes into the dream its true secret. One should therefore invert the standard notion of an ever-deeper penetration to the core of the dream: it is not that we first move from the manifest dream-content to the first-level secret, the latent dream-thought, and then penetrate deeper, into the dream’s unconscious wish. This “deeper” wish is located in the very gap between the latent dream-thought and the manifest dream-content.(176)

So that in Erwartung it is the very gap between content and form is to be reflected back into the content itself, as an indication that the content is not all, that something was repressed/ excluded from it— this exclusion which establishes the form is itself the “primordial repression” (Ur-Verdrängung), and no matter how much we bring out all the repressed content, this primordial repression persists. In other words, what is repressed in a cheap melodrama (and then returns in the music) is simply the sentimental excess of its content, while what is repressed in Erwartung, its Unconscious , is not some determinate content but the void of subjectivity itself that eludes the musical form and is as such constituted by it, as its remainder. (176)

1. John Barth. The Friday Book (John Hopkins University, 1984)
2. Zizek, Slavoj (2014-10-07). Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism. Verso Books. Kindle Edition.

William Gibson: The Peripheral – A Tale of Time

You can’t go there. Nobody can. But information can be exchanged, so money can be made there.”

– William Gibson,  The Peripheral

What if the future were run by gangsters? Not your old Italian or Russian Mafioso’s, but families who live beyond their years who control secrets and knowledge bases larger than governments. Who can roam through time or at least send bits of data back to do their bidding. To murder, perhaps? At least so goes the basic plot of William Gibson’s new novel, The Peripheral.

“It’s new . It’s quiet. Lev looks for new things, things his family might invest in. He thinks this one may be out of Shanghai. Something to do with quantum tunneling.”
“How far back can they go?”

“Twenty twenty-three, earliest. He thinks something changed, then; reached a certain level of complexity. Something nobody there had any reason to notice.”
“Remind me of it later.” She reached for him. On the walls, the framed flayed hides of three of her most recent selves. Her newest skin beneath him, unwritten.1

A hint of the Singularity? AI run amok? 3D printing builds a new world? Designer skins for those lucky elites that need a new sleeve for the right occasion? Who knows? I’m just on page 70 and I’m hooked finally realizing just where this story is going, at least I tell myself that hoping it is leading somewhere dark and darker. Gibson seems to be back in tidy form, his prose snaps and bristles with the old cyberpunk flippancy. Yet, one sees a more mature shadow of the former self, a revisionary gleam floating out of the prose from a seasoned veteran who has taken in the hype and spit it out again refraining from the glib glitz of our networked utopianism, and instead conveying the bitter truth of dystopia with a caged smile.

Somewhere ahead of us on the peer to peer communications line of time are two worlds, one in which Flynne Fisher and her brother, Burton live out their lives in a near-future rural America and, while in the other, Wilf Netherton wanders among dark lords of crime in a far flung future-future London. The plot is simple enough: Burton Fischer knows something, something that the overlords of some gangland world of the future wish to erase, so they seek to kill him by wiring money and information back in time along that point in space where he can be found, then killed. As Wilf finds out from another family of criminals who have been tracking such things:

“They want to kill a dead man in a past that effectively doesn’t exist?” Netherton asked. “Why? You’ve always said that nothing that happens there can affect us.”

“Information,” Lev said, “flows both ways. Someone must believe he knows something. Which, were it available here, would pose a danger to them.” (Gibson, 70)

Yet, it’s Flynne who comes alive as a character, her puckish punkishness, her no nonsense matter-of-fact observations, cynical yet full of the old style rebelliousness: grace under pressure? She more than other characters shapes the novel to something that keeps you reading. The other characters still seem a little bland and commercial compared to her Appalachian youth. But, for all that, this isn’t your homegrown variety of Appalachian satire, but rather the emergence of an especially acute intelligence in the midst of a world gone south in more ways than one. America on the decline, fallen on bad times; yet, still working in pragmatic home down fashion with what is at hand to make a living, and survive. Flynne is a girl who outwardly is tough as a boot, but inwardly still harbors those deeper qualities of femininity that marks the need for recognition and independence for women. She can handle what you throw at her, yet she also knows that some things aren’t worth throwing or having. 

There’s a moment when she intervenes into a situation that seems about to go viral, where a young punk named Conner “who was half a machine, like a centaur made out of a motorcycle” has been baited by a couple of football types and is about to show them what violence truly is when she walks out of the bar and confronts him:

“It’s a tiresome asshole town. Least you got an excuse. Go home. Burton’s on his way back from Davisville. He’ll come see you.” And it was like she could see herself there, on the gray gravel in front of Jimmy’s, and the tall old cottonwoods on either side of the lot, trees older than her mother, older than anybody, and she was talking to a boy who was half a machine, like a centaur made out of a motorcycle, and maybe he’d been just about to kill another boy, or a few of them, and maybe he still would. She looked back and saw Madison was on the porch, bracing the football player who’d thrown the bottles, titanium glasses up against the boy’s eyeballs, boy backing to keep from being poked in the chest with the rows of pens and flashlights in Madison’s Teddy Roosevelt vest. She turned back to Conner. “Not worth it, Conner. You go home.”

“Fuck-all ever is,” he said, and grinned, then punched something with his chin. The Tarantula revved, wheeled around, and took off, but he’d been careful not to spray her with gravel. (Gibson, 65-66)

So here I am reading this, realizing Gibson’s hooked me again. Up to this moment I kept wondering what it was all about, not now… now I just want to enjoy the ride of how this strange tale will unfold.

I’ll return with a full review in the short future… stay tuned.

1. Gibson, William (2014-10-28). The Peripheral (p. 39). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

Linda Negata: The Bohr Maker – A Posthuman Fable

Nikko, who was in truth only a program himself, a modern ghost, an electronic entity copied from the mind of his original self, had little patience for Dull Intelligences.

– Linda Nagata, The Bohr Maker

“By the beginning of the twentieth century , it was becoming clear that the engines of life operated at the molecular scale. How can we understand such machines, and how does their operation relate to the macroscopic machines of our everyday experience?”1 Reading Linda Nagata’s The Bohr Maker is like entering that moment of transition between our everyday world of commonsense and the ultrareal worlds of advanced NBIC technologies. Caught between the “folk image” of our ancient world views, centered in magic, religion, and voodoo; and, the realms of the “scientific image” in which rationality alone is the guide, Negata enacts her fable of our posthuman molecular destiny.

Continue reading

David Roden’s: Speculative Posthumanism & the Future of Humanity (Part 6)

 Given their dated nonexistence, we do not know what it would be like to encounter or be posthuman. This should be the Archimedean pivot for any account of posthuman ethics or politics that is not fooling itself. – David Roden,

Again I take up from my previous post David Roden’s Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. This will be brief post today. Roden will in chapter six qualify and extend his disconnection thesis by a speculative surmise that it implies that whatever posthumans might become we can start with at least one conceptual leap: they will be functional autonomous systems (FAS).

He will test out various causal theories that might inform such a stance: Aristotelian, Kantian, and others. But will conclude that none of them satisfy the requirements set by disconnection thesis in the sense that most of these theories deal with biological as compared to either hybrid or even fully technological systems and adaptations. Against any form of teleological system whether of the Aristotelian or an ASA (autonomous systems approach) which is intrinsically teleological he will opt for a pluralistic ontology of assemblages (which we’ve discussed in the previous post ), because it comports well with a decomposability of assemblages that entails ontological anti-holism.1

He will survey various forms of autonomy: moral and functional; Aristotelian; Darwinian and ecological; modularity and reuse; and, assemblages. Instead of belaboring each type, which is evaluated and rejected or qualified in turn for various reasons: teleology, biologism, etc. We move to the final section that he appropriates aspects useful from the various types of autonomy studied to formulate a workable hypothesis and working theory that is revisable and situated at the limits of what we can expect as a minimal base of conceptuality to discover if and when we meet the posthuman. It ultimately comes down to the indeterminacy and openness of this posthuman future.

His tentative framework will entail a modular and functional autonomous system because the model provided by biological systems suggests that modularity shields such systems from the adverse effects of experimentation while allowing greater opportunities for couplings with other assemblages. Since humans and their technologies are also modular and highly adaptable, a disconnection event would offer extensive scope for anomalous couplings between the relevant assemblages at all scales. (Roden, 3364-3371)

In some ways such an event or rupture between the human and posthuman entailed by disconnection theory relates to both the liminal and the gray areas between assemblages and their horizons. As he will state it a disconnection is best thought of as a singular event produced by an encounter between assemblages. It could present possibilities for becoming-other that should not be conceived as incidental modifications of the natures of the components since their virtual tendencies would be unlocked by an utterly new environment. (Roden, 3371) Further, such a disconnection could be a process over time, rather than one isolated singular event, which leaves the whole notion of posthuman succession undetermined as well as unqualifiable by humans themselves ahead of such an event. Think of the agricultural revolution between the stone age world of hunting and gathering, and new static systems of farming and hording of grains in large assemblages of cities for fortification, etc. This new technology of farming and its related processes were a rupture that took place over thousands of years from stone age through the Neolithic and onward. Some believe that it was this significant event that would in turn help develop other technologies such as writing (temple and grain bookkeeping), math (again taxation, counting), etc. all related to the influx of agriculture and the cities that grew up in their nexus: each an assemblage of various human and technological assemblages plugged in to each other over time.

Which brings in the notion that it is an event, an intensity, rather than an object or thing, which means that the modulation and development of whatever components leading to this process are outside of the scope of traditional metaphysics or theories of subjectivity. (Roden, 3380) As well it is not to be considered an agent nor a transcendental subject in the older metaphysical sense, rather since it is part of processual and mutually interacting set of mobile components that lend themselves to assemblages with an open-textured capacity for anomalous couplings and de-couplings it need not be wed to some essentialist discourse that would reduce its processes to either biological or technological systems. We just do not have enough information. 

In summary he will tell us that if disconnections are intense becomings, becomings without a subject, then this is something we will need to take into account in our ethical and political assessment of the implications of SP. Becoming human may not be best understood as a transition from one identifiable nature to another despite the fact that the conditions of posthumanity can be analysed in terms of the functional roles of entities within and without the Wide Human. Before we can consider the ethics of becoming posthuman more fully, however, we need to think about whether technology can be considered an independent agent of disconnection or whether it is merely an expression of human interests and powers. What is a technology, exactly, and to what extent does technology leave us in a position to prevent, control or modify the way in which a disconnection might occur? (Roden, KL 3388-3394)

We will explore the technological aspect in the next post.

1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (Kindle Location 2869). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

David Roden’s: Speculative Posthumanism & the Future of Humanity (Part 4)

Again I take up from my previous post David Roden’s Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. In Chapter Three Dr. Roden would tell us that pragmatism elaborates transcendental humanism plausibly, and that because of that we need to consider its implications for posthuman possibility. In Chapter Four he will elaborate on that by defining pragmatisms notion of language as a matrix  “in which we cooperatively form and revise reasons”, and he will term this the “discursive agency thesis (DAT)” (Roden, KL 1402).1 The basic premise here is simple: that any entity that lacks the capacity for language cannot be an agent. The pragmatist will define discursive agency as requiring certain attributes that will delimit the perimeters of what an agent is:

1) An agent is a being that acts for reasons.
2) To act for reasons an agent must have desires or intentions to act.
3) An agent cannot have desires or intentions without beliefs.
4) The ability to have beliefs requires a grasp of what belief is since to believe is also to understand “the possibility of being mistaken” (metacognitive claim).
5) A grasp of the possibility of being mistaken is only possible for language users (linguistic constitutivity). (Roden, KL 1407-1413)

As we study this list of agency we see a progression from acting for specific reasons, desires, intentions, beliefs to the need for self-reflection and language to grasp these objects in the mind. We’ve seen most of this before in other forms across the centuries as philosophers debated Mind and Consciousness. For philosophers, neuroscientists and cognitive scientists, the words are used in a way that is both more precise and more mundane: they refer to the familiar, everyday experience of having a “thought in your head”, like a perception, a dream, an intention or a plan, and to the way we know something, or mean something or understand something. “It’s not hard to give a commonsense definition of consciousness” observes philosopher John Searle. What is mysterious and fascinating is not so much what it is but how it is: how does a lump of fatty tissue and electricity give rise to this (familiar) experience of perceiving, meaning or thinking?

Philosophers call this the hard problem of consciousness. It is the latest version of a classic problem in the philosophy of mind called the “mind-body problem.” A related problem is the problem of meaning or understanding (which philosophers call “intentionality”): what is the connection between our thoughts and what we are thinking about (i.e. objects and situations out in the world)? A third issue is the problem of experience (or “phenomenology”): If two people see the same thing, do they have the same experience? Or are there things “inside their head” (called “qualia”) that can be different from person to person?

Neurobiologists believe all these problems will be solved as we begin to identify the neural correlates of consciousness: the actual relationship between the machinery in our heads and its collective properties; such as the mind, experience and understanding. Some of the harshest critics of artificial intelligence agree that the brain is just a machine, and that consciousness and intelligence are the result of physical processes in the brain. The difficult philosophical question is this: can a computer program, running on a digital machine that shuffles the binary digits of zero and one, duplicate the ability of the neurons to create minds, with mental states (like understanding or perceiving), and ultimately, the experience of consciousness?

But I get ahead of myself for Dr. Roden begins first analyzing the notions of Analytical philosophy in which “propositional attitudes” or what we term items in the mind: psychological states such as beliefs, desires and intentions (along with hopes, wishes, suppositions, etc.) are part and partial of our linguistic universe of sentences that describe the “that” clause. (Roden, KL 1416) Discussing this he will take up the work of Davidson, Husserl and Heidegger.

Now we know that for Husserl phenomenology is transcendental because it premises its accounts of phenomenon on the primacy of intentionality with respect both to reason and sense. So that Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology begins and ends by a ‘reduction’ of phenomena to its ‘intentional objects’ or the ‘ideal object’ intended by a consciousness.2 

For Roden the conflict is not about intentionality (which he seems to accept) but is more about our cognition and understanding of differing “positions regarding commonly identified objects”: “That is to say, our challenge to the metacognitive claim does not show that advanced posthumans with florid agency powers would not need to understand what it is to be mistaken by being able to using the common coin of sentences.” (Roden, KL 1805-08) He will even suggest that the fact that humans can notice that they have forgotten things, evince surprise, or attend to suddenly salient information (as with the ticking clock that is noticed only when it stops) implies anecdotally that our brains must have mechanisms for representing and evaluating (hence “metacognizing”) their states of knowledge and ignorance. (Roden, KL 1815)

What’s more interesting in the above sentence is how it ties in nicely with R. Scott Bakker’s Blind Brain Theory:

“Intentional cognition is real, there’s just nothing intrinsically intentional about it. It consists of a number of powerful heuristic systems that allows us to predict/explain/manipulate in a variety of problem-ecologies despite the absence of causal information. The philosopher’s mistake is to try to solve intentional cognition via those self-same heuristic systems, to engage in theoretical problem solving using systems adapted to solve practical, everyday problem – even though thousands of years of underdetermination pretty clearly shows the nature of intentional cognition is not among the things that intentional cognition can solve!” (see here)

 This seems to be the quandary facing Roden as he delves into both certain philosophers and scientists who base their theories and practices on intentionality, which is at the base of phenomenological philosophy both Analytical and Continental varieties. Yet, this is exactly his point later in the chapter after he has discussed certain aspects of elminativist theoretic of Paul Churchland and others: evidence for non-language-mediated metacognition implies that we should be dubious of the claim that language is constitutive of sophisticated cognition and thus – by extension – agency (Roden, KL 1893). He will conclude that even if metacognition is necessary for sophisticated thought, this may not involve trafficking in sentences. Thus we lack persuasive a priori grounds for supposing that posthumans would have to be subjects of discourse (Roden, 1896).

I think we’ll stop here for today. In section 4.2 he will take up the naturalization of phenomenology and the rejection of transcendental constraints. I’ll take that up in my next post.

1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
2. Jeremy Dunham, Iain Hamilton Grant, Sean Watson. Idealism: The History of a Philosophy (MQUP, 2011)

David Roden’s: Speculative Posthumanism & the Future of Humanity (Part 3)

Continuing where I left off yesterday in my commentary on David Roden’s Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human  we discover in Chapter Two a critique of Critical Posthumanism. He will argue that critical humanism like SP understands that technological, political, social and other factors will evolve to the point that the posthuman will become inevitable, but that in critical posthumanism they conflate both transhuman and SP ideologies and see both as outgrowths of the humanist tradition that tend toward either apocalypse or transcendence. Roden will argue otherwise and provides four basic critiques against the anti-humanist argument, the technogenesis argument, the materiality argument, and the anti-essentialist argument. By doing this he hopes to bring into view the commitment of SP to a minimal, non-transcendental and nonanthropocentric humanism and will help up put bones on its realist commitments (Roden, KL 829).1

Critical posthumanism argues that we are already posthuman, that it is our conceptions of human and posthuman that are becoming changing and that any futuristic scenario will be an extension of the human into its future components. SP will argue on the other hand that the posthuman might be radically different from the human altogether, such that the posthuman would constitute a radical break with our conceptual notions altogether. After a lengthy critique of critical posthumanism tracing its lineage in the deconstructive techniques of Derrida and Hayles he will tell us that in fact SP and Critical posthumanism are complementary, and that a “naturalistic position structurally similar to Derrida’s deconstructive account of subjectivity can be applied to transcendental constraints on posthuman weirdness” (Roden, KL 1037). The point being that a “naturalized deconstruction” of subjectivity widens the portals of posthuman possibility whereas it complicates but does not repudiate human actuality (Roden, 1039). As he sums it up:

I conclude that the anti-humanist argument does not succeed in showing that humans lack the powers of rational agency required by ethical humanist doctrines such as cosmopolitanism. Rather, critical posthumanist accounts of subjectivity and embodiment imply a cyborg-humanism that attributes our cognitive and moral natures as much to our cultural environments (languages, technologies, social institutions) as to our biology. But cyborg humanism is compatible with the speculative posthumanist claim that our wide descendants might exhibit distinctively nonhuman moral powers. (Roden, 1045-1049)

When he adds that little leap to “nonhuman moral powers” it seems to beg the question. That seems to align toward the transhumanist ideology, only that it fantasizes normativity for nonhumans rather than enhanced humans. Why should these inhuman/nonhuman progeny of metal-fleshed cyborgs have any moral dimension whatsoever? Some argue that the moral dimension is tied to affective relations much more than cognitive, so what if these new nonhuman beings are emotionless? What if like many sociopathic and psychopathic humans have no emotional or affective relations at all? What would this entail? Is this just a new metaphysical leap without foundation? Another placating gesture of Idealism, much like the Brandomonian notions of ‘give and take’ normativity that such Promethean philosophers as Reza Negarestani have made recently (here, here, here):

Elaborating humanity according to the self-actualizing space of reasons establishes a discontinuity between man’s anticipation of himself (what he expects himself to become) and the image of man modified according to its functionally autonomous content. It is exactly this discontinuity that characterizes the view of human from the space of reasons as a general catastrophe set in motion by activating the content of humanity whose functional kernel is not just autonomous but also compulsive and transformative.
Reza Negarestani , The Labor of the Inhuman One and Two

The above leads into the next argument: technogenesis. Hayles and Andy Clark will argue that there has been a symbiotic relation between technology and humans from the beginning, and that so far there has been no divergence. SP will argue that that’s not an argument. That just because the fact that the game of self-augmentation is ancient does not imply that the rules cannot change (Roden, KL 1076). Technogenesis dismissal of SP invalidly infers that because technological changes have not monstered us into posthumans thus far, they will not do so in the future (Roden, KL 1087).

Hayles will argue a materiality argument that SP and transhumanists agendas deny material embodiment: the notion that a natural system can be fully replicated by a computational system that emulates its functional architecture or simulates its dynamics. This argument Roden will tell us actually works in favor of SP, not against it. It implies that weird morphologies can spawn weird mentalities. 7 On the other hand, Hayles may be wrong about embodiment and substrate neutrality. Mental properties of things may, for all we know, depend on their computational properties because every other property depends on them as well. To conclude: the materiality argument suggests ways in which posthumans might be very inhuman. (Roden, 1102)

The last argument is based on the anti-essentialist move in that it would locate a property of ‘humaneness’ as unique to humanity and not transferable to a nonhuman entity: this is the notion of an X factor that could never be uploaded/downloaded etc. SP will argue instead that we can be anti-essentialists (if we insist) while being realists for whom the world is profoundly differentiated in a way that owes nothing to the transcendental causality of abstract universals, subjectivity or language.  But if anti-essentialism is consistent with the mind-independent reality of differences – including differences between forms of life – there is no reason to think that it is not compatible with the existence of a human– posthuman difference which subsists independently of our representations of them. (Roden, 1136)

Summing up Roden will tell us:

The anti-essentialist argument just considered presupposes a model of difference that is ill-adapted to the sciences that critical posthumanists cite in favour of their naturalized deconstruction of the human subject. The deconstruction of the humanist subject implied in the anti-humanist dismissal complicates rather than corrodes philosophical humanism – leaving open the possibility of a radical differentiation of the human and the posthuman. The technogenesis argument is just invalid. The materiality argument is based on metaphysical assumptions which, if true, would preclude only some scenarios for posthuman divergence while ramping up the weirdness factor for most others. (Roden, 1142-1147)

Most of this chapter has been a clearing of the ground for Roden, to show that many of the supposed arguments against SP are due to spurious and ill-reasoned confusion over just what we mean by posthumanism. Critical posthumanism in fact seems to reduce SP and transhumanist discourse and conflate them into some erroneous amalgam of ill-defined concepts. The main drift of critical posthumanist deliberations tend toward the older forms of the questionable deconstructionist discourse of Derrida which of late has come under attack from Speculative realists among others.

In the Chapter three Roden will take up the work of Transhumanism which seeks many of the things that SP does, but would align it to a human agenda that constrains and moralizes the codes of posthuman discourse toward human ends. In this chapter he will take up threads from Kant, analytical philosophy, and contemporary thought and its critique. Instead of a blow by blow account I’ll briefly summarize the next chapter. In the first two chapters he argued that the distinctions between SP and transhumanism is that the former position allows that our “wide human descendants” could have minds that are very different from ours and thus be unamenable to broadly humanist values or politics. (Roden, KL 1198) While in chapter three he will ask whether there might be constraints on posthuman weirdness that would restrict any posthuman– human divergence of mind and value. (Roden, 1201) After a detailed investigation into Kant and his progeny Roden will conclude that two of the successors to Kantian transcendental humanism – pragmatism and phenomenology – seem to provide rich and plausible theories of meaning, subjectivity and objectivity which place clear constraints on 1) agency and 2) the relationship – or rather correlation – between mind and world. (Roden, 1711) As he tells us these theories place severe anthropological bounds on posthuman weirdness for, whatever kinds of bodies or minds posthumans may have, they will have to be discursively situated agents practically engaged within a common life-world. In Chapter 4 he will consider this “anthropologically bounded posthumanism” critically and argue for a genuinely posthumanist or post-anthropocentric unbinding of SP. (Roden, 1713)

I’ll hold off on questions, but already I see his need to stay with notions of meaning, subjectivity and objectivity in the Western scientific tradition that seem ill-advised. I’ll wait to see what he means by unbinding SP from this “anthropologically bounded posthumanism”, and hopefully that will clarify and disperse the need for these older concepts that still seem to be tied with the theo-philosophical baggage of western metaphysics.

1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

David Roden’s: Speculative Posthumanism & the Future of Humanity (Part 2)

In my last post on David Roden’s new book Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human I introduced his basic notion of Speculative Posthumanism (SP) in which he claimed that for “SP … there could be posthumans. It does not imply that posthumans would be better than humans or even that their lives would be compared from a single moral perspective.” The basic motif is that his account is not a normative or moral ordering of what posthuman is, but rather an account of what it contains. 

In chapter one he provides a few further distinctions to set the stage of his work. First he will set his form of speculative posthumanism against the those like Neil Badmington and Katherine Hayles who enact a ‘critical posthumanism’ in the tradition of the linguistic turn or Derridean deconstruction of the humanist traditions of subjectivity, etc.. Their basic attack is against the metaphysics of presence that would allow for the upload/download of personality into clones or robots in some future scenario. Once can see in Richard K. Morgan’s science fictionalization (see Altered Carbon) of humans who can download their informatics knowledge, personality, etc. into specialized hardware that allows retrieval for alternative resleeving into either a clone or synthetic organism (i.e., a future rebirthing process in which the personality and identity of the dead can continually be uploaded into new systems, clones, symbiotic life-forms to continue their eternal voyage).  Hans Moravec one of the father’s of robotics would in Mind’s Children be the progenitor of such download/upload concepts that would lead him eventually to sponsor transhumanism, which as Roden will tell us is a normative claim that offers a future full of promise and immortality. Such luminaries as Frank J. Tipler in The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead would bring scientific credence to such ideas as the Anthropic Principle, which John D. Barrow and he collaborated on that stipulates: “Intelligent information-processing must come into existence in the Universe, and, once it comes into existence, will never die out.”

Nick Bostrom following such reasoning would in his book Anthropic Bias: Observation Selection Effects in Science and Philosophy supply an added feature set to those early theories. Bostrom showed how there are problems in various different areas of inquiry (including in cosmology, philosophy, evolution theory, game theory, and quantum physics) that involve a common set of issues related to the handling of indexical information. He argued that a theory of anthropics is needed to deal with these. He introduced the Self-Sampling Assumption (SSA) and the Self-Indication Assumption (SIA) and showed how they lead to different conclusions in a number of cases. He pointed out that each is affected by paradoxes or counterintuitive implications in certain thought experiments (the SSA in e.g. the Doomsday argument; the SIA in the Presumptuous Philosopher thought experiment). He suggested that a way forward may involve extending SSA into the Strong Self-Sampling Assumption (SSSA), which replaces “observers” in the SSA definition by “observer-moments”. This could allow for the reference class to be relativized (and he derived an expression for this in the “observation equation”). (see Nick Bostrom)

Bostrom would go on from there and in 1998 co-found (with David Pearce) the World Transhumanist Association (which has since changed its name to Humanity+). In 2004, he co-founded (with James Hughes) the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. In 2005 he was appointed Director of the newly created Future of Humanity Institute in Oxford. Bostrom is the 2009 recipient of the Eugene R. Gannon Award for the Continued Pursuit of Human Advancement and was named in Foreign Policy’s 2009 list of top global thinkers “for accepting no limits on human potential.” (see Bostrom)

Bostrom’s Humanity+ is based on normative claims about the future of humanity and its enhancement, and as Roden will tell us transhumanism is an “ethical claim to the effect that technological enhancement of human capacities is a desirable aim” (Roden, 250).1 In contradistinction to any political or ethical agenda (SP) or speculative posthumanism which is the subject of Roden’s book “is not a normative claim about how the world ought to be but a metaphysical claim about what it could contain” (Roden, 251). Both critical posthumanism and transhumanism in Roden’s sense of the term are failures of imagination and philosophical vision, while SP on the other hand is concerned with both current and future humans, whose technological activities might bring them into being (Roden, KL 257). So in this sense Roden is more concerned with the activities and technologies of current and future humans, and how in their interventions they might bring about the posthuman as effect of those interventions and technologies.

In Bostrom’s latest work Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies he spins the normative scenario by following the trail of machine life. If machine brains one day come to surpass human brains in general intelligence, then this new superintelligence could become very powerful. As the fate of the gorillas now depends more on us humans than on the gorillas themselves, so the fate of our species then would come to depend on the actions of the machine superintelligence. But we have one advantage: we get to make the first move. Will it be possible to construct a seed AI or otherwise to engineer initial conditions so as to make an intelligence explosion survivable? How could one achieve a controlled detonation? In my own sense of the word: we want be able to control it. Just a study of past technology shows the truth of that: out of the bag it will have its own way with or without us. The notion that we could apply filters or rules to regulate an inhuman or superintelligent species seems quite erroneous when we haven’t even been able to control our own species through normative pressure. The various religions of our diverse cultures are examples of failed normative pressure. Even now secular norms are beginning to fall into abeyance as enlightenment ideology like other normative practices is in the midst of a dark critique.

In pursuit of this Roden will work through the major aspects of the humanist traditions, teasing out the moral, epistemic, and ontic/ontological issues and concerns relating to those traditions before moving on to his specific arguments for a speculative posthumanism.  I’ll not go into details over most of these basic surveys and historical critiques, but will just highlight the basic notions relevant to his argument.

1. Humanists believe in the exceptionalism of humans as distinct and separate from non-human species. Most of this will come out of the Christian humanist tradition in which man is superior to animals, etc. This tradition is based in a since of either ‘freedom’ (Satre, atheistic humanism) or ‘lack’ (Pico della Mirandola). There will also be nuances of this human-centric vision or anthropocentric path depending stemming from Descartes to Kant and beyond, each with its own nuanced flavor of the human/non-human divide.
2. Transhumanism offers another take, one that will combine medical, technological, pharmaceutical enhancements to make humans better. As Roden will surmise, transhumanism is just Human 1.0 to 2.0 and their descendents may still value the concepts of autonomy, sociability and artistic expression. They will just be much better at being rational , sensitive and expressive – better at being human. (Roden, KL 403-405)
3. Yet, not all is rosy for transhumanists, some fear the conceptual leaps of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). As Roden tells us Bostrom surmises that “the advent of artificial super-intelligence might render the intellectual efforts of biological thinkers irrelevant in the face of dizzying acceleration in machinic intelligence” (Roden KL 426).
4. Another key issue between transhumanists and SP is the notion of functionalism, or the concept that the mind and its capacities or states is independent of the brain and could be grafted onto other types of hardware, etc. Transhumanist hope for a human like mind that could be transplanted into human-like systems (the more general formulation is key for transhumanist aspirations for uploaded immortality because it is conceivable that the functional structure by virtue of which brains exhibit mentality is at a much lower level than that of individual mental states KL 476), while SP sees this as possible wishful thinking in which thought it might become possible nothing precludes the mind being placed in totally non-human forms.

Next he will offer four basic variations of posthumanism: SP, Critical Posthumanism, Speculative realism, and Philosophical naturalism. Each will decenter the human from its exceptional status and place it squarely on a flat footing with its non-human planetary and cosmic neighbors:

Speculative posthumanism is situated within the discourse of what many term ‘the singularity’ in which at some point in the future some technological intervention will eventually produce a posthuman life form that diverges from present humanity. Whether this is advisable or not it will eventually happen. Yet, how it will take effect is open rather than something known. And it may or may not coincide with such ethical claims of transhumanism or other normative systems. In fact even for SP there is a need for some form of ethical stance that Roden tells us will be clarified in later chapters.

Critical posthumanism is centered on the philosophical discourse at the juncture of humanist and posthumanist thinking, and is an outgrowth of the poststructural and deconstructive project of Jaques Derrida and others, like Foucault etc. in their pursuit to displace the human centric vision of philosophy, etc. This form of posthumanism is more strictly literary and philosophical, and even academic that the others.

Speculative realism Roden tells us will argue against the critical posthumanists and deconstructive project and its stance on decentering subjectivity, saying  “that to undo anthropocentrism and human exceptionalism we must shift philosophical concern away from subjectivity (or the deconstruction of the same) towards the cosmic throng of nonhuman things (“ the great outdoors”)” (Roden, KL 730). SR is a heated topic among younger philosophers dealing with even the notion of whether speculative realism is even a worthy umbrella term for many of the philosophers involved. (see Speculative Realism)

Philosophical naturalism is the odd-man out, in the fact that it’s not centered on posthuman discourse per se, but rather in the “truth-generating practices of science rather than to philosophical anthropology to warrant claims about the world’s metaphysical structure” (Roden, KL 753). Yet, it is the dominative discourse for most practicing scientists, and functionalism being one of the naturalist mainstays that all posthumanisms must deal with at one time or another. 

I decided to break this down into several posts rather than to try to review it all in one long post. Chapter one set the tone of the various types of posthumanism, the next chapter will delve deeper into the perimeters and details of the “critical posthumanist” discourse. I’ll turn to that next…

Visit David Roden’s blog, Enemy Industry which is always informed and worth pondering.

1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

Emerson, Neuroscience, & The Book of Nature – On Fate & Freedom

 

The book of Nature is the book of Fate. She turns the gigantic pages, — leaf after leaf, — never returning one.  … The element running through entire nature, which we popularly call Fate, is known to us as limitation. Whatever limits us, we call Fate. … Why should we fear to be crushed by savage elements, we who are made up of the same elements? – Ralph Waldo Emerson: Fate

As one reads and rereads Emerson’s essays, and especially the ones in The Conduct of Life, one gains a deeper appreciation of this man’s dark temperament, and of his tenacity in the face of those who would tyrannize us with superfluous notions of just what necessity and fate truly are.  For Emerson the notion of fate was but one of the forces, not the ruling force of life in this universe. The opposing force for him was freedom. If there are limits, if there are environmental factors that shape and bind us to certain limits and limitations of physical and mental constitution, there is also the opposing notion of mind and intelligence to counter the harsh necessities of life’s circumstances. Yet, the mind is not some separate entity, above it all; this would be illusion, too. No, the mind is very much enmeshed within the web of elements we call the universe, and it is within this very context and rootedness of mind in the processes of the universe that we must approach fate and freedom.

In his poem Fate  (see below) Emerson tells us that “There is a melody born of melody, which melts the world into a sea.” The notion that there are processes born of processes, which fold the world internally into the processes of the brain is at the heart of this. One could say that the production of production, system of system, or feedback loop within feedback loop all work their magic in this sea within:

That you are fair or wise is vain,
Or strong, or rich, or generous;
You must have also the untaught strain
That sheds beauty on the rose.
There is a melody born of melody,
Which melts the world into a sea.
Toil could never compass it,
Art its height could never hit,
It came never out of wit,
But a music music-born
Well may Jove and Juno scorn.
Thy beauty, if it lack the fire
Which drives me mad with sweet desire,
What boots it? what the soldier’s mail,
Unless he conquer and prevail?
What all the goods thy pride which lift,
If thou pine for another’s gift?
Alas! that one is born in blight,
Victim of perpetual slight;—
When thou lookest in his face,
Thy heart saith, Brother! go thy ways!
None shall ask thee what thou doest,
Or care a rush for what thou knowest,
Or listen when thou repliest,
Or remember where thou liest,
Or how thy supper is sodden,—
And another is born
To make the sun forgotten.
Surely he carries a talisman
Under his tongue;
Broad are his shoulders, and strong,
And his eye is scornful,
Threatening, and young.
I hold it of little matter,
Whether your jewel be of pure water,
A rose diamond or a white,—
But whether it dazzle me with light.
I care not how you are drest,
In the coarsest, or in the best,
Nor whether your name is base or brave,
Nor tor the fashion of your behavior,—
But whether you charm me,
Bid my bread feed, and my fire warm me,
And dress up nature in your favor.
One thing is forever good,
That one thing is success,—
Dear to the Eumenides,
And to all the heavenly brood.
Who bides at home, nor looks abroad,
Carries the eagles, and masters the sword.

Continue reading

James Sallis: Lew Griffith and the Blues

Reading a James Sallis crime novel is like a slow burn with someone for whom one has great respect, but have never quite been able to hit it off; yet, one keeps coming back, tempting fate or whatever other strange gods inhabit the wastelands of our modernity, realizing that this is a love affair of the mind not of the heart, one that is difficult to measure much less to analyze, and is part and partial of the darker traces that inhabit both time and memory, fantasy and dream. One realizes after reading such works that one’s own identity is built out of dark and imponderable traces, shifting realities, fragments, and the detritus of other people’s lives; that the illusion of selfhood and subjectivity is just that: an illusion; that hidden behind the folds of flesh and blood, under the physical semblance of lived life is the haunting absence of something else, something indefinable, something strange and away that has for all too long been hurting, hurting like some broken thing in the night.

In his series about an African American Detective, Lew Griffith, Sallis stated – as if almost surprised at himself: “I didn’t elect to write a novel from an African-American’s viewpoint. I began writing, as I always do, from a single image, a sense of a character, trying to draw this shadowy person out. I was many pages into  The Long-Legged Fly … before I realized that Lew was African-American. So I went back and started over” (Garth Cartwright).

Lew Griffith – the unlikely hero of this dark tale, and the main character in Sallis’s earmark noir about the menacing streets of New Orleans is a tough yet sympathetic character, a man who carries the scars of other peoples troubles like a soul-eater whose job is never done, who is as lost as the victims he seeks to defend or meet out justice for. A street philosopher of the first order Lew understands that a human being is more than just the hard cold facts of ones daily trek through existence. Underneath the veneer we all inhabit a darkness of solitude and despair from which each of us must in our own private struggles seek either solace or reprieve:

“It’s strange how little is left of our lives once they’re rendered down, once they’ve started becoming history. A handful of facts, movements, conflicts; that’s all the observer sees. An uninhabited shell.”

The Long-Legged Fly is a novel of lost souls, troubled identities, of identities pared down to the bone. It’s a secret history of American Identity caught in the web of an era when identity was shifting, scrambled, and ill-defined, almost paranoiac; a time when civil-rights turmoil was surfacing below the threshold of social and political worlds. Lew Griffin in not so much interested in the larger picture, of conveying an understanding of the greater canvas of our American Atrocity as he is of its effects on the particular, the singular inhabitants of one of its key cities, New Orleans.

In the opening sequence a year has passed since the fatal shooting of John F. Kennedy, when the Civil Rights Act had barely been signed by Lyndon B. Johnson. The beginning of the supposed Great Society when social reform and racial injustice was going to be eliminated from the face of the earth. A promising era that brought us the War on Poverty. Into this strange world comes Lew Griffin, a sort of latter day knight of the African Americans, a man with his own problems and failings, but also a man who – even if lost among the semblances, seemed to keep heading in the right direction, trying over and over to right the wrongs and injustices around him.

There is a secret history of the south yet to be written that will connect us to those dark and terrible violences that have over the course of American History come to haunt us all. I speak of racism and its effects and affects on the American psyche – or, should we rather say, identity? Since the idea of some great collective soul or psyche seems both superficial and having no bearing on the troubling aspects of this history. Lew discovers the impenetrableness of this dark relation in his relationship with a young white woman, Vicky, a nurse whose uniform attends this strange truth:

“There’s something about all that white, the way it barely contains a woman, its message of fetching innocence and concealment, that reminds us how much we remain impenetrable mysteries to one another. We circle one another, from time to time drawing closer, more often moving apart, just as we circle our own confused, conflicting feelings” (140).

Lew rides this a little further relating a small history of the Blues he’s watching on a documentary series on TV. The Blues he tells us encapsulates this hurt, the dark secret that we still are all in denial of, and that Blues music, guitar, and the likes of Charley Patton, Bessie Smith, Lonnie Johnson, Bukka White, Son House, Robert Johnson, and so many other great African American singers brought to light in their songs and tempos. As one of the singers relates in an interview: “Because the slave could not say what he meant … he said something else. Soon he was saying all sorts of things he didn’t mean. We’d call it dissembling. But what he did mean, that was the blues” (141). In one of the segments of the documentary a commentator relates what “Big Joe Williams” had to say:

…all these young guys have it wrong. They were trying to get inside the blues, he said, when what the blues was, was a way of letting you get outside – outside the sixteen or eighteen hours you had to work every day, outside where you lived and what you and your children hat to look forward to, outside the way you just plain hurt all the time (141).

It was this hurt that follows Lew around moment by moment like an old dog that want die but just keeps on moaning its mournful song. Yet, it is this mournful hurt that drives Lew, that spurs him own to right all the injustices within his purview even if it means a turn toward the vigilante side of justice as portrayed in the opening sequence of the novel itself.

After the opening sequence we find Lew puzzling over the schizophrenic breakdown of a young woman Corine Davis, an activist who suddenly disappeared one day, and as suddenly reappeared in a local asylum outside New Orleans, Lew ponders just what it is that makes up the life of such a being:

…I guess it wasn’t that much different from the way we all make up our lives by bits and pieces, a piece of a book here, a song title or lyric there, scraps of people we’ve known, clips from movies, imagining ourselves and living into that image, then going on to another and yet another, improvising our way from day to day through the years we call a life (49).

Just like a scrapbook found on a garbage heap at the county dump we discover our own lives to have been nothing more than the flotsam and jetsam of a fractured world set to the tempo of some old sad and lonely song sung by the likes of  Tom Russell and Tom Waits, or Emmylou Harris and Gretchen Peters. It’s the hidden life of the American working class in these tales and songs that means something, something beyond the failure, loss, and brokenness of the depleted images and novelistic effects. It’s what helps us survive, get on with our lives, get up in the morning and reach for another first chance at hope, even if we know hope is hard to come by or doesn’t even exist in our day to day vocabulary. It’s this fatal optimism, the optimism of a screwball clown or loser that follows a path with heart that ultimately leads down that dark alley where despair is the only guest that touches noir in its extremities.

Sallis himself never intended this first book to be followed up by five more sequels. In fact even this first novel was intended as a short story that just got away from him.2 Drifting among the detritus of differing time periods the protagonist Lew Griffin sifts time and memory for the fragments of a life gone sour: his own. But not much will help him in that accord, life’s been tough on this old PI; or, maybe we should say that not life, but death had wandered through his life too many times and left a bad taste in his mouth. Once in a while he’ll come on a place of memory, a place where happy times formerly resided like snapshots from some alien history; and, like marriage it brought fond memories to Lew of “chicken sandwiches and extra chips”, a nice afternoon in the sun, soft kisses and a honeymoon.  Yet, even this, like most honeymoons would not last, and was only the beginning of a slow and steady decline. Craig McDonald remarks: “…in all of Sallis’ works, there is the sad recognition that too often we recognize our moments of happiness only in retrospect— moved to do so by present circumstances we similarly don’t yet recognize as comfortable, and won’t, until they, too, have slipped into the past” (247).

As Lew relates it toward the end: “It’s never ideas, but the simple things, that break our hearts: a falling leaf that plunges us into our own irredeemable past, the memory of a young woman’s ankle, a single smile among unknown faces, a madeleine, a piece of toast” (190). In the last sequence of this novel Lew is tasked with finding his own son, David Griffith, who has vanished off the radar between France and New York. At the end of a long trail Lew realizes he’ll never discover the truth about his son’s disappearance, and that like one of the characters in his own novel (Lew having become a popular novelist of crime novels), he remarks:

The news my Cajun had brought the old man in the bar was that his son was dead, needlessly stupidly dead, and I knew that more than ever before I was writing close to my life, that the old man’s bottle and mute acceptance were my own, that I would not see David again. I am not a man much given to the mystic or ineffable, but sitting there that night in the darkness like a cat, with the fruity smells of gin and a murmur of wind from outside, I knew. And I have been right. (196-197)

We’ve all known that strangeness, that something in excess, intangible that touches us from the realm of the Real, that haunts us and follows us down the lonely nights of our lives like a difficult passage from some dark poem that keeps biting at our minds, that keeps tugging at our heart like something we’ve all forgotten or misplaced, some impossible object that keeps coming back day after day troubling us with its incessant thoughts offering us not so much solace as the broken promise of our own unfulfilled lives. Despair comes in many guises. Life, too.

1. James Sallis. The Long-Legged Fly. (Carroll and Graf, 1992)

2. McDonald, Craig (2011-07-29). Rogue Males.

Dark Earth: Poetry of Dean J. Baker

Image of Dean J. Baker“I keep walking, making calls which few recognize, eventually sure that one day when I have passed that way, suddenly a porch light will shine in the evening and another timelessness reign.”

– Dark Earth, Dean Baker

Been reading Dean Baker’s latest offering of poems of late, Dark Earth. Of course Dean is an author, composer, and performer who was born in Toronto, Canada, to a Ukrainian/Polish father and an Irish/Scottish mother. Attended the University of Guelph, and later won book awards from them, along with several unsolicited Ontario Arts Council awards, best poems published in a year in literary journals, and The T.S. Eliot Society of Miami’s Calendar Poet award. He has several other works out: Bad Boys, Silence Louder Than A Train, The Mythologies Of Love, and The Lost Neighborhood each of which can also be found on his amazon.com page.

What struck me intensely about Dean’s poetry is this sense of earthiness and despair tinged with a dark humor that I so love. An ongoing walk through these dark times is an underlying expectation, an almost uncanny movement toward hope; yet, not hope itself, rather it’s a sort of orientation to the future or forward looking gaze that can almost see between barbed wired clouds on the darkest horizon something strange almost shining through only to be sealed off immediately by the Reality Police who trap us in this bleak corner of the universe. Now by this I don’t mean that Dean is some kind of blipping optimist, no he’s a pessimist or realist like most of us. No that would make things a little to easy and rosy, and Dean is more of a bleak and transgressive churning below the muddy waters. He lives down where the alligators and moccasins move in those black ponds, waiting, harboring nothing but deadly thoughts. Dean’s world is to poetry what David Goodis in Street of No Return is to noir. In that bleak book the main character loses the girl, kills the villain, returns to skid row with a bottle under his arm for the boys in the cold wet sunless streets, where life is nothing but this hollow gesture, a desperateness toward the last dark weave of things: where losers sit in some dark alley passing the bottle around, and nothing could touch them nothing at all.

But then again what does touch us is Dean’s poetry, and it touches us hard and quick like some dark message out of hell; but this is no metaphysical charade – it is our hell, our lives in this god forsaken universe where the thought of salvation isn’t some dream of transcendence, but is rather a movement toward another order of indifference, another and hopeful purgatory across some bleak landscape beyond the lies and deceit of this one.

Do you not see how
they drive:
to meet the grinning, opened mouth.

In Dean’s Widows he challenges our sense of propriety, brings us two death’s: the death of child, and the death of something else. Even the use of the plural – Widows, as if one may suspect some murderous collusion amongst “black widows”; or, rather the natural order of some dip into Shakespeare’s widowed “witches” from Macbeth; or, more likely just three old mean women out of some southern gothic world who, as the interlocutor tells us – as if it were some dark and sinister story, to be hushed up in polite society – a memory of another child: “the unlovely child you always knew too much about”. And, the interlocutor continues with a double refrain, one that tells us these dark widows are “carrying themselves” and “carrying themselves / with taunts of Spring”. The interlocutor will not say what cannot be said, what it is that these widows have done, or what secrets they hold to their black hearts. But he knows, and for him there is a bittersweet revenge in knowing that what they are moving toward as “they drive” is a meeting with that “grinning, opened mouth” – a death at once comical and grotesque that will undo these murderous widows and their secrets in ways beyond telling.

This is the key to Dean’s art, the subtle narration of certain moments that are never revealed in the full natural disclosure of facts, but are rather revealed more subtly in the voicing of certain affective relations between memory and mind in this ongoing inquisition with the sordidness of our unlived lives. It’s as if in each poem we are seeing slices of a pain, a snapshot of horrors, a visitation of certain indelible blood-lettings that continue to keep the wound of life open to the world. For isn’t that truly all that remains? How many of your memories are of joy? Oh I don’t mean the picture memories you can snap out, I mean the affective memories that stick in the crawl of your thick mind like a bad taste in the mouth. How many?

Dean is a true comic poet as well, full of those sly interventions and evasions, slights of self, incriminations and elisions: “It is you, who have ruined / your life, / with the comparisons … elegies outworn: / embarrassing”. And, even the muse is a fickle mistress a tormentor “the muse still torments me every now and then”, and yet she’s a comical waif as well:

She thinks a psychiatrist / may do the trick: forgetting / she had a hand in the mess.

What I admire is Dean’s pulling out all the stops, no sublime romanticist here; no, instead he’s taken notes from the underbelly of those masters of the macabre and grotesque. All those little oddball peculiarities of the absurd, bizarre, macabre, depraved, degenerate, perverse that are the hallmark of the best of that dark haunting literature, both humorous and earthy, grotesque – can be found here. As Philip Thomson tells us of the grotesque in literature and visual culture: he calls it ‘the unresolved clash of incompatibles in work and response’ and, he continues, ‘it is significant that this clash is paralleled by the ambivalent nature of the abnormal as present in the grotesque’.1 I like to go back to Baudelaire who perfected this mode after his careful perusal and translations of that master, Edgar Allen Poe. For Baudelaire it was to know that one was dammed in this life from the beginning; but it wasn’t a religious knowledge, no it was a secular knowing that this world, not some future abode of despair already harbored enough hate and crime to fill ten thousands hells. Maybe this is why even Sartre would seek in Baudelaire a brother of that darker existential pain that is existence with others, and go on to see “hell is other people”.

One of my favorites of this mode from Dean’s work, and the last one I’ll quote (I want you to cherish a first reading of the rest for yourself) is “Queen St. East””

The jaw slacks, with the weight
of the body’s loss,
to an inexorable acknowledgement

The brain is unfettered
in its jug; spilling over
with the nostalgia of alcohol

Flat on their backs, near Moss
Park, curled fetus-like, the
inhabitants whirl in a static frenzy of

Enfeeblement, any amusement here
sublingual: the posthumous twitching
of cynics en masse

That, my friends, in one succinct movement is the Grotesque Sublime: “the posthumous twitching / of cynics en masse”. It is also the dark knowing of a grotesque humor named “Dean Baker”. Rabelais and Hieronymus Bosch look out of dark chinks in these poems… instead of Emerson’s “Whim” above Dean’s lintel we might assume “Melancholy” resides here… that dark brooding that laughs below, and rises through the bones to jerk you awake from your too lazy sleep of existence.

Please visit Dean Baker’s wordpress.com site: http://deanjbaker.wordpress.com/
and his poetry can be found: amazon.com page.

 

1. Edwards, Justin; Graulund, Rune (2013-05-29). Grotesque (The New Critical Idiom) (p. 3). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

P.S. – I plan on doing a lot of reviews over the next few months on others I’ve met here on wordpress.com as well as poets that have influenced my own life and outlook… so stay tuned!

21st Century Baroque Poetry: Excess, Invention, and Ornament

Stephen Burt in an article Nearly Baroque in the Boston Review tells us that 21st Century poets “of the nearly Baroque want art that puts excess, invention, and ornament first. It is art that cannot be reduced to its own explanation, that shows off its material textures, its artificiality, its descent from prior art, its location in history. These poets want an art that can always give, or could always show, more”. He lists several poets that are within this tradition of excess: Angie Estes, Robyn Schiff, Hailey Leithauser, Marsha Pomerantz, Nada Gordon, Lucie Brock-Broido, Ange Mlinko, Kiki Petrosino, and Geoffrey Nutter.

As Burt describes it this type of poetic or aesthetic “exhibit elaborate syntax and sonic patterning, without adopting pre-modernist forms (they never look or sound like Richard Wilbur). If they derive technique from a modernist poet, it is always Marianne Moore. The poems have subjects—things and characters in a preexisting, historical world—and often include proper nouns. But they rarely focus on one subject; instead, they weave together several topics or scenes in sinuously complicated, multiply subordinated sentences. They may compare their own intricacies to other intricately made things: textiles, jewelry, household machines, braids, spiral staircases, DNA.”

There is also a Southern Gothic neo-Baroque that Burt alludes to in the work of Jane Springer, Atsuro Riley,  and Anna Journey which for me will be of interest if your a Southerner of the USA as I am. The influence of O’Conner, Faulkner, Welty, McCullers and others is still strong in me. So many of the southern poets influence aspects of my own ongoing projects.

I’ve always been fascinated with the magic realists of South America and their growth out of the baroque of Spain, but to see this resurgence in other forms is exciting and worth investigating. I’ve added bio’s and links to a few works and poets. Enjoy the ride!

Angie Estes is the author of five books, most recently Enchantée, and Tryst was selected as one of two finalists for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize.

Robyn Schiff was born in New Jersey. She earned an MFA at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and an MA at the University of Bristol. She is the author of the poetry collections Revolver (2008), a finalist for the PEN Award, and Worth (2002). Her work has been featured in several anthologies, including Women Poets on Mentorship: Efforts and Affections (2007) and Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century (2006).

Hailey Leithauser was born in Baltimore and raised in Maryland and Central Florida.  Over the years Leithauser has worked as a salad chef, real estate office manager, gourmet food salesperson, freelance copy editor, phone surveyor, bookstore clerk, fact checker, and, most recently, senior reference librarian at the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C. Swoop: Poems

Marsha Pomerantz grew up in New York, lived in Israel for twenty years, and now lives in Boston. Her poems and prose have been published in journals in the US, UK, and Israel, and she has translated poetry, short fiction, and a novel from the Hebrew. Her writing has been supported by two residencies at the MacDowell Colony and by a Massachusetts Cultural Council finalist grant, and she has twice been a finalist for the Poetry Society of America’s Robert H. Winner Award. She is managing editor at the Harvard Art Museums. The Illustrated Edge

Nada Gordon can be found on her blog ~~ululations~~   Latest books: Vile Lilt, Folly, and Swoon

Lucie Brock-Broido was born in Pittsburgh, was educated at Johns Hopkins and Columbia University, and has taught at Bennington, Princeton, Harvard (where she was a Briggs-Copeland poet), and Columbia. She is the recipient of fellowships from the NEA and the Guggenheim Foundation, as well as awards from the American Poetry Review and the Academy of American Arts and Letters. Stay, Illusion: Poems, The Master Letters, A Hunger, and Trouble in Mind: Poems

Ange Mlinko is the author of three books, Shoulder Season (Coffee House Press, 2010), Starred Wire (Coffee House Press, 2005), which was a National Poetry Series winner in 2004 and a finalist for the James Laughlin Award, and Matinees (Zoland Books, 1999). In 2009, she won the Randall Jarrell Award in Criticism. Mlinko was born in Philadelphia, and has worked in Brooklyn, Providence, Boston, and Morocco. She has taught poetry at Brown, the Naropa University Summer Writing Program, and Al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco. Her poems are about urban life, about language and its failings, about the things we see and do not see. She is often compared to Frank O’Hara. The New Yorker praised her “unique sense of humor and mystery.” Her Latest: Marvelous Things Overheard: Poems

Poet Kiki Petrosino was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of an African American mother and an Italian American father. She earned a BA from the University of Virginia, an MA in humanities from the University of Chicago, and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is the author of Fort Red Border (2009) and Hymn for the Black Terrific (2013).

Geoffrey Nutter is originally from California but has lived in New York for many years. He has published four books: A Summer Evening (winner of the Colorado Prize, 2001); Water’s Leaves & Other Poems (winner of the Verse Prize, 2005); Christopher Sunset (winner of the 2011 Sheila Motton Book Award), and The Rose of January (Wave Books, 2013), and his work has also appeared in many journals and anthologies. One can discover more on his blog: http://www.geoffreynutter.net/

 

Southern Baroque

Jane Springer. Born in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, and raised in several small towns across the South, poet Jane Springer earned a PhD at Florida State University. Her debut poetry collection, Dear Blackbird (2007), won the Agha Shahid Ali Prize from the University of Utah Press. Her second collection, Murder Ballad (2012), received the Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James Books. Influenced by Flannery O’Connor and Larry Levis, Springer writes narrative, often long-form poems that portray rural Southern life as at once mythic and passionate. Poet Lynnell Edwards, reviewing Murder Ballad, noted, “Springer’s long line is fearless in its music, indulging luscious sounds and pounding measures. Traversing the despair of the rural south, [she] exploits the urgency and dread of every keening murder ballad, showing how that cleaving is both our undoing and our salvation.” Interview with Jane Springer.

Atsuro Riley grew up in South Carolina and lives in California. His heavily stressed, percussive, consonant-rich, free-verse poems conjure up the elemental images of the lives of people inhabiting a specific, acutely portrayed landscape. His poems are dense with impressions, voices, and glimpses of people who have experienced the Vietnam War, rural life, and the South. His first book, Romey’s Order (2010), received the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, The Believer Poetry Award, and a Witter Bynner Award from the Library of Congress.

Anna Journey  is the author of the poetry collections Vulgar Remedies (Louisiana State University Press, 2013) and If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting (University of Georgia Press, 2009), which was selected by Thomas Lux for the National Poetry Series.

Thomas Ligotti: New Interview Up…

“Why couldn’t the whole world accept vital realities in the same way that the presence of a bidet in a bathroom illustrates an acceptance of the realities of human hygiene?” – Thomas Ligotti

New Interview up on The Nightmare Network by Jon Padgett which covers a little of Ligotti’s new book The Spectral Link. I caught this from a tweet by Mike Davis @misanthropemike on Twitter, and on the Lovecraft eZine. Thanks Mike!

Read Interview: Vital Realities: A Conversation with Thomas Ligotti

One quote I saw a relevant for any budding writer:

“Lovecraft’s later stories convey his maddening practice of telegraphing their endings and revelations so that no one could possibly mistake what exactly transpires in a given narrative or what it means. That’s the influence writing for Weird Tales had on him, and he suspected this was so. His earlier stories aren’t written that way. None of them make you want to rip every adverb from them, as do his post-1926 works. It was during this time that Lovecraft, as he wrote in one or more of his letters, expressed his desire to write about the play of great forces in the universe rather than embody these as monsters described in tedious detail. The later works are the ones critics mean when they speak of what a bad writer Lovecraft was. Then again, with certain writers, and Lovecraft was one of them, there is always room for controversy, because great works are not always written with great style. Think of the poems of Thomas Hardy. “The horror, the horror.””

Samuel Beckett – Apr 13, 1906 – Dec 22, 1989 (age 83)

This little story by Samuel Beckett “Stirrings Still” always reminds me of those convoluted latinate poems of e.e. cummings, the ones you must not only memorize, but perform internally and externally, fuse and merge beyond the memory of its actual enactment, a forgetting in the moment of saying… no matter how glum I get Beckett can make me smile inside… there has always been and will always be a kindness, a gentleness in his nihilism that goes beyond the banal truths… his ability to put the void in language, to distill out of the abyss a non-meaning that has something like an after spark rather than a taste of death in it… quintessential Beckett… this sense of absence in motion.. a pressing of the void that is this absence against the horizon…But that’s it isn’t it? In Beckett nothing ever truly ends: it’s this endless void dancing in motion, a waiting without end – two clowns in operatic speechlessness speaking past each other to the absence that never was there…yet, has always remained in its very nothingness. Samuel Beckett: the black mote in a comic’s eye, the voice both in and out of the end game. The best complement you could pay in homage to Beckett: Even his shadow is longer than time…

*  *  *

“Waiting to see if he would or would not. Leave him or not alone again waiting for nothing again.”

           – Samuel Beckett,   The Complete Short Prose of Samuel Beckett, 1929-1989

John Scalzi: Hayden’s Syndrome and Pandemics

“This document is the result of interviews with many of the doctors, scientists, politicians, and ordinary people who were instrumental in both our understanding of Haden’s syndrome and our national and global response to it.”

– John Scalzi, Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome 

Just read Scalzi’s little intro Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome to his next novel Locked In which in sixty-six pages outlines the short history of a flu epidemic that in global terms matches the Black Death in impact. We’ve all watched with careful appraisal the many flu viruses across the past few years. The so called Bird Flu or Avian Influenza (H7N1). But what if it happened? What if an epidemic of apocalyptic proportions actually went global? And what if the virus brought with it symptoms and complications unforeseen in any known viruses? Of course Scalzi is well known for his Old Man War Series which introduced the 65 year old advertising agent into a galactic conflict that proves to be his unlearning and relearning of what it is to be human in a posthuman universe.

This is the basic theme of Scalzi’z new work or prequel to Locked In, a miniature tour guided glimpse of the fate of humanity as it is rocked by a virus that could be genetically engendered or freeborn artifact of human/animal interaction. We’re shown that science and scientists have limits and that they, too, can screw up royally. In a short sixty-six pages he provides us fictional interviews with Heads of State, the CDC, pharmaceutical companies, executives, front line health advocates, etc. But what is Hayden’s Syndrome?  A disease that “would claim millions of lives and sentence millions more to “Lock In,” a paralysis of the body that leaves the mind fully functional.” Named after the First Lady of the United States who contracted it and was its first victim.

If you’ve wondered what it might be like to be a reporter and uncover such a dark outbreak this is a great little hard sci-fi introduction. I want give away the major thrust of his tale which relates the issues surrounding his invented “Locked In” virus and its aftermath. A very inventive tale based on current and know aspects of the social, political, medical, and historical impact that such a disease might have upon us. As a lead in to the novel it does the job needed to keep your interest, and approaches its didactic theme with verve and intelligence.

I remember back in 2009 reading Barry Spellberg’s Rising Plague: The Global Threat from Deadly Bacteria and Our Dwindling Arsenal to Fight Them. In that book he shared true and very moving patient stories to emphasize the terrible frustration he and his colleagues  experienced while attempting to treat untreatable infections, not to mention the heart-break and tragedy that many of these patients’ families had to endure. Dr. Spellberg corrects the nearly universal misperception that physician misuse of antibiotics and “dirty hospitals” are responsible for causing antibiotic-resistant infections. He explains the true causes of antibiotic resistance and of the virtual collapse of antibiotic research and development. Most important, he advocates ways to reverse this dire trend and instead bolster the production of desperately needed new and effective antibiotics. He also warns against complacency induced by the decades-old assumption that some miracle drug will always be available to ensure the continuation of our “antibiotic era.” If we do nothing, we run the risk of inviting a bleak future when infectious diseases will once again reign supreme. Then many of the medical breakthroughs that we now take for granted—from routine surgery and organ transplants to intensive care and battlefield medicine—might all be threatened.

I think most of us wander through life with the survivor’s syndrome or notion that that couldn’t possibly happen to me. It’ll happen to the next guy. I’m the exception. But, truth be, none of us are the exception. Like much else we build up some nice illusions to protect and defend ourselves from the cold harsh truth of the world around us. But that only goes so far. If as the old cliché used to go that ‘knowledge is power’ then what we need more than anything is the intelligence to use that knowledge rather than the power of dominion to misuse it. Better to be informed than left in the midst of an epidemic that might send you down the oblivion lane.

An influenza pandemic can occur when a non-human (novel) influenza virus gains the ability for efficient and sustained human-to-human transmission and then spreads globally. Influenza viruses that have the potential to cause a pandemic are referred to as ‘influenza viruses with pandemic potential.’

Examples of influenza viruses with pandemic potential include avian influenza A (H5N1) and avian influenza H7N9, which are two different “bird flu” viruses. These are non-human viruses (i.e., they are novel among humans and circulate in birds in parts of the world) so there is little to no immunity against these viruses among people. Human infections with these viruses have occurred rarely, but if either of these viruses was to change in such a way that it was able to infect humans easily and spread easily from person to person, an influenza pandemic could result.

CDC Resources for Pandemic Flu

CDC’s pandemic preparedness efforts include ongoing surveillance of human and animal influenza viruses, risk assessments of influenza viruses with pandemic potential, and the development and improvement of preparedness tools that can aid public health practitioners in the event of an influenza pandemic.

The links below offer more information about influenza pandemics and highlight some of CDC Influenza Division’s continued work on influenza pandemic preparedness.

International Surveillance for Pandemic Preparedness Adobe PDF file [787 KB, 3 pages]

CDC Influenza Division International Program works with a wide range of international partners, including the World Health Organization, national ministries of health and others to build capacity to respond to pandemics and to prevent and control seasonal influenza.

Risk Assessment

Risk assessments help assess the threat of influenza viruses with pandemic potential

Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Tools

Resources to help hospital administrators and state and local health officials prepare for the next influenza pandemic

Flu.govExternal Web Site Icon

Resources to help businesses, communities, schools and other organizations plan for the next pandemic

 

 

 

The Aphorisms of Adorno: In The Face of Despair

The only philosophy which can be responsibly practised in face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption.

– Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia

Having been a fan of the aphoristic style ever since reading Nietzsche as a young man it was a pleasant surprise to refresh my mind with Theodor W. Adorno’s Minima Moralia which of course he began during WWII and its aftermath. The cynicism and despair of the world, of the bourgeoisie, of the fabled hopes of communism – all these become so much bittersweet castigations and incriminations in this deft text. I’m almost hard put to find someone, even E.M. Cioran, who was more bitter and spiteful about his lot – maybe, the Preacher of Ecclesiastes? Yes, this is a work of solitude, of one who has read too long, hoped too well, fallen from the grace of his own being.

Most of the basic triggers, the subjects or objects of his titles are but sparks of spite, goads of a dark intent… yet, intent is not the correct term, for there is no directedness in this, no sense of attentive appraisal with a goal in mind, rather we have the full stop, the judgment of history itself using Adorno’s pen like a saber to cut through the knots of some Gordian priesthood’s mythical attachment to power. No. Adorno could care less of his audience, this is a personal book, a book of meditations on a culture of death, a culture that has, frankly, imploded and is now on the verge to total apocalypse.

He begins with a high point in bourgeois culture, with the author of that book of memory and time, Marcel Proust. Yet, it is not Marcel to which he speaks, rather this is a meditation of bourgeois culture itself, its disdain of such beings as Marcel. “It is not merely that his independence is envied, the seriousness of his intentions mistrusted, and that he is suspected of being a secret envoy of the establishment powers. Such suspicions, though betraying a deep-seated resentment, would usually prove well-founded. But the real resistances lie elsewhere.” Already Adorno sets the stage, reminds us that this is an investigation not into the particular characters, not a moraliste – an aphoristic study in the morality of an age, rather it is an investigation into the structure and the actual material energies that brought such things to pass. It is about power and control, about the machine of civilization itself in the hands of Capital: “The urge to suspend the division of labour which, within certain limits, his economic situation enables him to satisfy, is thought particularly disreputable: it betrays a disinclination to sanction the operations imposed by society, and domineering competence per- mits no such idiosyncrasies. The departmentalization of mind is a means of abolishing mind where it is not exercised ex officio, under contract.” Summing up those like Marcel, who have dared to retreat, dared to escape the machine, to hide out and seek refuge from the hard worlds of work and late capitalism were at last neither envied nor praise, but were judged as expendable: “It is as if the class from which independent intellectuals have defected takes its revenge, by pressing its demands home In the very domain where the deserter seeks refuge.”

And don’t expect that powerhouse of the bourgeoisie, the family, to escape the eye of this harbinger of the demise of Capital: “Our relationship to parents is beginning to undergo a sad, shadowy transformation. Through their economic impotence they have lost their awesomeness. … With the demise of the family there passes away, while the system lasts, not only the most effective agency of the bourgeoisie, but also the resistance which, though repressing the individual, also strengthened, perhaps even produced him.” One remembers that this was written at a time when the institution of the family attacked by the modernists had at last begun to fall away. Women were working in factories, becoming more independent – so to speak, for the truth was that the capitalists needed them out of the home and working alongside men to get ready for that new consumerist economy that was in the offing. So that it was the capitalists themselves that brought about the demise of this fabled institution of the family. But it would loosen desires and strange new illnesses never before seen, schizophrenia would run rampant across the earth like a desiring-machine that had no center: and, it didn’t, the family Oedipal authority was vanishing, the power that had kept this machine under control was dissolving and allowing all the forces latent in this tribal time between times to vacate the rational hold of its caged existence. One need not read Deleuze and Guattari or R.D. Laing to see that as women escaped the bond of the family circle the men went ape, lost their center, their mother, not their father – the drift of this disconnect loosened those bonds around the hearth fires that had stilled the beast. As Adorno would remark: “The rising collectivist order is a mockery of a classless one: together with the bourgeois it liquidates the Utopia that once drew sustenance from motherly love.”

So Adorno was a pop-psychologist, too. Zizek before Žižek – a sort of non-Lacanian mode of analysis, a critical gaze on the failure of the Enlightenment to stay the tide against barbarism. “Since the all-embracing distributive machinery of highly-concentrated industry has superseded the sphere of circulation, the latter has begun a strange post-existence.” The wheels-within-wheels are churning, but going nowhere, while capitalism unbound from its purpose accelerates out of control toward the abyss: “The irrationality of the system is expressed scarcely less clearly in the parasitic psychology of the individual than in his economic fate.” And, the whole notion that there is a private sphere, that an individual could actually have a home, a family, a wife and kids, a place to spend time and energy: “Today it is seen as arrogant, alien and improper to engage in private activity without any evident ulterior motive.” This is a time of probabilities, of calculations, of the mathematical engineering of a planned society, the construction of a free market. The new Spirit of Capitalism: “The evil principle that was always latent in affability unfurls its full bestiality in the egalitarian spirit. Condescension, and thinking oneself no better, are the same. To adapt to the weakness of the oppressed is to affirm in it the pre-condition of power, and to develop in oneself the coarseness, insensibility and violence needed to exert domination.”

Adorno doesn’t leave the Left out of the bag either, his admonitions of those who seek to sympathize, to enter into and live in the midst of these societies (and where else would we live now?) must beware of the temptation to detach oneself, to become indifferent and aloof, to think that one can create a life in a pocket of safety: “He who stands aloof runs the risk of believing himself better than others and misusing his aitique of society as an ideology for his private interest. While he gropingly forms his own life in the frail image of a true existence, he should never forget its frailty, nor how little the image is a substitute for true life.” Even with the best intentions the new intellectual, the Marxist in hiding, the agitator, the worker in transit who assumes the mantle of the critical enterprise should beware in this time of laxity and hedonistic implication: “We shudder at the brutalization of life, but lacking any objectively binding morality we are forced at every step into actions and words, into calculations that are by humane standards barbaric, and even by the dubious values of good society, tactless.”

The dark undertow of the oppressed harbors a special place in the memory system that was Adorno: “The dialectic stems from the sophists; it was a mode of discussion whereby dogmatic assertions were shaken and, as the public prosecutors and comic writers put it, the lesser word made the stronger. It subsequently developed, as against philosophia perennis, into a perennial method of criticism, a refuge for all the thoughts of the oppressed, even those unthought by them.” The negative dialectic unlike its progenitors became in the hands of Adorno an acid bath in which late capitalism was thrown, yet as in all things he knew it would leave bones – and, as we all know, bones can rise and live again: “Negative philosophy, dissolving everything, dissolves even the dissolvent. But the new form in which it claims to suspend and preserve both, dissolved and dissolvent, can never emerge in a pure state from an antagonistic society.” Yet, even the negative is not immune from the enslavement of hell’s own brood: “[Negative dialectic] But it is also the utterly impossible thing, because it presupposes a standpoint removed, even though by a hait’s breadth, from the scope of existence, whereas we well know that any possible knowledge must not only be first wrested from what is, ifit shall hold good, but is also marked, for this very reason, by the same distortion and indigence which it seeks to escape.”

But what to do? How to live? “The only responsible course is to deny oneself the ideological misuse of one’s own existence, and for the rest to conduct oneself in private as modestly, unobtrusively and unpretentiously as is required, no longer by good upbringing, but by the shame of still having air to breathe, in hell.” Yet, even envious demons – like the cowards they are, run rampant in the visible darkness of this hollow cave, and like celebrants in a Burning Man festival, they spin their unlucky nights under false stars navel-gazing, not realizing that hell never ends but only burns deeper and redder as the noise drowns out all thought of escape.

– Theodor W. Adorno. Minima Moralia. (Suhrkamp Verlag 1951)