Sean Crow: The Godless Lands

Sean Crow’s Godless LandsCapture

Began reading this new entry in a certain type of fantasy I’ve been enjoying of late. Sean himself told me recently he is an adherent of David Gemmell’s work like others are to Tolkien. Gemmell is of course a master of nuance and the gray tones of moral ambiguity. Creating characters of the heroic mold tending toward the grimdark vectors of the great outsiders who hold to no religious or social creeds or dogmas, but rather harbor within themselves a moral compass of unique disposition challenging the universe on its own ground situation by situation. Call them existential heroes who choose life over death, honor and integrity over the imposed morals of State or Religion.

Sean’s characters so far follow in this mold. We find a world that has been inundated by a small apocalypse of disease, The Blight. It’s a world of fear and dread, ruled by a contingent of feudal lords and their Inquisitorial Knights who control access to food and shelter in cities that enforce strict compliance to a regimen of cleansing and purity.

The prologue and first chapter introduce us to Arlo, Ferris, and the Doves. Arlo is a man caught in the circumstance of being the head of the Doves, the Inquisitorial enforces of purification and cleansing of the city of those who once they catch the dread Blight must be mercifully eliminated. It’s a grim task and Arlo is a man who is not evil in the absolute sense, but has been assigned a task, one he does not relish but knows must be done. Arlo has himself lost a wife and loved ones to the Blight so knows the sorrow of this dreaded disease.

Ferris is a Dove, or an ex-Dove, a man who has seen death aplenty, but has chosen to live outside the city in the godless lands where there is no protection or safe haven. Ferris is a coward, but as in Gemmell’s character Rek of Legend, he is a coward on the side of life, a man who chose to protect the innocent and certain of the diseased from the dread execution. We meet him on a road outside the city in a forest where a woman and her child are running from Knights. Ferris unknowing why he does it helps them evade the law chasing her down, and offers her a small reprieve and help to find better safety. Ferris will question his own motives and like Rek in Gemmell come up with no satisfactory reason why he is the way he is. This is as far as I’ve gotten so far, but it’s enough to keep me reading. One thing I will say is that even if there are shades of Gemmell in the work I’m not going to look for such things from here, only that his mentioning of Gemmell as his “Tolkien” or go to writer of inherited influence brings such thoughts to mind.

Just finished Sean’s novel today. Very enjoyable read. As previously stated the novel started out with the escape of a young woman, Bethany, and her daughter, Katrina from an unwanted marriage in the aristocratic town of Brightbridge. Bethany and her daughter run into Ferris on the road outside the town where they are being tracked by a group known as the Pathfinders who are scouts under Arlo’s command. Arlo we remember is a knight under the command of a half-crazed aristocrat whose tendencies to violence are quick and deadly. Yet, Arlo, being a man of loyalty and honor serves his lord with the utmost zeal to the point that he’s gained a reputation as the “Death Knight” in the local environs for his zealous and officious slaughter of whole families who have come into contact with the plague known as the Blight.

The story revolves around the escape of mother and child, a tale of two towns and a farm where their destinies are entwined with others who have escaped before and sought in the godless lands a refuge against the madness of aristocrats, the plague, and the cruelty of enslavement. The story will run the gambit of half-crazed aristocrats, cannibals, mercenaries, and innocent men and women seeking to escape the plague ridden cities where cruelty and mayhem have led to inhuman depths of depravity. Brightbridge is controlled by Arlo and his mercenary forces of death, while another town, Riven, is controlled by a sadistic giant named ‘The Butcher’. The Butcher is the son of a doctor who succumbed to the Blight and died leaving his son whose apprenticeship in the arts of healing have taken a darker turn toward sadism and torture and the worship of a dark god of cannibalistic cruelty named the ‘Hungry God’.

In Sean’s novel the deadly ‘Death Knight’ of Brightbridge, and the ‘Butcher’ of Riven, will both leave their respective towns for different reasons. The one in search of his Lord’s runaway bride and daughter, the other in search of a new supply of meat for the Hungry God. As one can tell this will lead both parties into a collision course with the refugees of a Farm where people from both towns have fled to begin new lives in the godless lands. Throw into the mix another group of survivors known as the ‘Withered’ – those who have survived the plague only to succumb to a dark and terrible zombie like state of insanity, and who seek to murder all those who are still normal humans.

I don’t want to spoil the reading pleasure of prospective reader’s mind with more plot and narrative details, only to say that you will be introduced to the members of the Farm who will play a major part in the coming clash between the deadly Deathknight Brightbridge and the Butcher of Riven. Like all novels there are twists and sub-plots, many POVs to delight our curiosity and move the tale along toward its denouement. Sean’s a storyteller with a sure eye to detail, and provides just enough information here and there without overly pounding the reader with infodumps. All in all this was a tight, compact tale which gives us just enough characterization and depth to enrich and pique our interest without bogging us down in an overly wrought tale of description gone mad. Sean has an eye for both psychological and external description to keep us reading, and yet knows just how much is too much guiding the reader into a good balance of strategy and action.

From what I’ve read this novel grew out of several tales that Sean had written in collusion with a painter friend, stories of various characters in the novel that would contribute to its overall design. It does have that visual appeal, and strangely the tale although written before our current COVID-19 crisis seems apropos in its theme shaped by a politics of cruelty and torture, freedom and normalcy. The novel has the medieval feel, and yet as one reads through it one will detect a sense that this is a civilization that has fallen from a more advanced and productive technological one based on a knowledge of the sciences. I’ll leave the reader to explore the threads of that on their own. Unlike many thick books of fantasy this is one that can be read in a couple of evenings. And even though there are other books that are projected to come in the same world, this one can be read as a stand-alone tale without having to worry about sequels. I like that. Too many writers have gotten into the habit of writing long overly wrought worlds that never seem to end. It’s refreshing to see a stand-alone tale that has a good beginning, middle, and end in the old style. Sean is a new voice in a field that is becoming saturated by cliched ridden world-building and stories that seem to endlessly repeat certain tropes over and over again. Sean’s doesn’t. It presents us with a tale about the common people who no matter what background, whether aristocrat or street urchin come together in a wilderness and forge a new life of cooperation and survival in a world of ruins. I like that, and think you will too.

Buy it on Amazon: The Godless Lands
Visit Sean Crow on Good Reads: here

Mike Shel: Aching God – A Review

CaptureAching God by Mike Shel is a slow burn, a novel that gathers its steam along the way in an adventure that is as old as fantasy itself. In the beginning we meet Auric Mentao, a retired member of the Syraeic League, a soldier and swordsman whose prowess and intelligence had carried him through many adventures in the service of his Queen. Living quietly on the edge of the seat of power where his farm lies under the protection of Lady Hannah in Daurhim we first meet Auric arising from a nightmare. A nightmare that will immerse us in a scene of his greatest disaster and the cause of his retirement these three years. A man who suffers from what we’d now term PTSD, or the trauma of an experience so dreadful and shocking to his system that even now he can barely cope with existence. And, yet, he must, for now he has been summoned by Queen Geneviva, Imperatrix and monarch, to the court to once again take up arms and perform the duty of a Knight and Soldier. Continue reading

Ed McDonald’s Black Wing: A Review

BlackWingThoroughly enjoyed reading Ed McDonald’s Black Wing, a work set in a fantasy world where Deep Kings and Nameless Demi-Gods vie for control in a eternal war that has been ongoing for millennia with no signs of stopping. It’s a fast paced hot and gritty novel full of action and a noirish and grimdark cast of characters. The main character is a Bounty hunter Ryhalt Galharrow, a Captain in the Black Wing’s a small mercenary organization run by one of the Nameless: Crowfoot. 

Ryhalt is a fallen aristocrat, a man who after killing a rival long ago in his youth, driven out of his family – disowned and exiled, has made his home on the edge of the Misery. The Misery is a no-man’s land of toxic and terrible magicks, a DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) that separates human civilization from the Kingdoms of Old Dhojara where the Deep Kings and their minions hold sway. The Misery itself was produced by the destruction in the last great war by a Nameless who blasted it with a dark and voidic magick which left the lands scarred and poisonous, a region where strange and bewildering creatures roam so full of vile and degrading corruption that humans who venture too far into those realms are usually never heard from again.

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Tahir Shah – Jinn Hunter: Book One: The Prism

CaptureQuirky. Strange. Off-the-wall funny in places. Reading Tahir Shah’s opening gambit in a trilogy series on the life and times of a reluctant Jinn Hunter is to say the least a joy to read. If you’ve wandered through the pages of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, their mad-cap adventures into symbolic logic and non-sense realities, then this is a book for you. It’s hard to place it as children’s literature, or even the faddish Young Adult YA type fiction, instead it seems to be a real throw-back to those ancient tales of the desert, The Arabian Night’s Tales that Andrew Lang, Sir Richard Burton, and in our modern age the likes of Muhsin Mahdi, Malcom Lyons, and so many others have translated. And, yet, not quite; not quite like these endless tales and narratives. A little something different and strange…

Tahir Shah himself, whose father was the Sufi teacher and writer Idries Shah, born in London grew up in largely in the county of Kent, where his family lived at Langton House, a Georgian mansion in the village of Langton Green near Royal Tunbridge Wells. He mingled at an early age with many of his father’s famous friends like the poet Robert Graves, and Doris Lessing whose Canopus in Argos: Archives series would be heavily influenced by the Sufi traditions of Shah’s father. During his childhood, Shah and his sisters would be taken to Morocco for extended periods, where his grandfather lived until his death in November 1969. Described in his book The Caliph’s House, the journeys introduced Shah to “a realm straight out of The Arabian Nights.” Tahir Shah is a prolific author of books, documentaries, book introductions, peer reviewed academic articles, and book reviews. The vast majority of Shah’s books can be considered travel literature, most of it collected in The Complete Collection of Travel Literature: In Search of King Solomon’s Mines, Beyond the Devil’s Teeth, House of the Tiger King, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Travels With Myself, Trail of Feathers. (wiki)

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R. Scott Bakker: The Darkness That Comes Before

“The thoughts of all men arise from the darkness. If you are the movement of your soul, and the cause of that movement precedes you, then how could you ever call your thoughts your own? How could you be anything other than a slave to the darkness that comes before?”
― R. Scott Bakker, The Darkness That Comes Before

Rereading R. Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing series again after so many years, and I must admit it has not lost its power to mesmerize and enchant. A grim and gritty epic unlike those lightbound fantasias of the Tolkien variety where elves and dwarves and hobbits wander among the bewildering array of ancient Middle-Earth. No. This work is closer to the ancient warlike Sagas of the Norsemen, a rugged tale of war, vengeance, and revenge. A tale that brings with it its own unique world and history, a world in the throes of conflict and apocalypse.

In the beginning we are introduced to a young warrior Monk, Anasûrimbor Kellhus a former Dûnyain, and heir to the ancient Kings of ancient Eärwa. Trained as a child up in the arts of sorcery and the “Logos” he has of late been troubled by dreams of his father. His father Anasûrimbor Moënghus is a Cishaurim Priest and former Dûnyain monk who lives in the Shimeh: the Holy City where the prophet of the ancient Inrithi, Inri Sejenus’s Ascension to the Nail of Heaven took place. It is also the home of the Cishaurim sorcerors. I’ll leave much out for those who have yet to read this work. Moënghus has a plan for his son, and uses his sorcerous skills to call him out of the citadel of the Ishuäl, a hidden fortress in the Demua Mountains. Kelhus begins his trek out of the Dûnyain of the North seeking his father… Continue reading

László Krasznahorkai: Waiting for this to be over…

James Wood once said of the Hungarian László Krasznahorkai that his “prose has a kind of self-correcting shuffle, as if something were genuinely being worked out, and yet, painfully and humorously, these corrections never result in the correct answer.” One might also say his prose is the answer to a question no one has ever asked, a solution to a puzzle no one ever puzzled over. It’s the kind of labyrinthine prose that seems to move of its own accord, leading one into an endless series of blind passages whose only reason for being is to allow you to enjoy the endless details of an insane world in its own act of vanishing…

As Baron Wenckheim tells us in Krasznahaorkai’s latest lost world of words:

“…I am the one— not creating anything— but who is simply present before every sound, because I am the one who, by the truth of God, is simply waiting for all of this to be over.”

—László Krasznahorkai, Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming

It’s as if the apocalypse were a road show to nowhere and nowhen, a conversation between to voids collecting only the sounds of emptiness and fullness. Maybe like the two clown tramps in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot there is only the endless chatter of two minds seeking comfort against the silence which seems forever about to stop all conversation forever… it’s this need to keep the words going, this rush of energy, this mad endlessness of script surging from void to void without any rhyme or reason that keeps the universe from shutting down for good. Maybe in the end the mad Baron lies, and that he knows the truth: that if he ever does stop, his voice going dark and silent, that not only will the show end, but nothing will have ever been…

Michael Griffin: Armageddon House

“A complete series of cultural memories came to mind: the Egyptian masrabas, the Etruscan tombs, the Aztec structures . . . as if this piece of artillery fortification could be identified as a funeral ceremony…”

—Paul Virilio, Bunker Archaeology

“Nature has a master agenda we can only dimly know.”

—Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae

CaptureIn The Folly of Fools Robert Trivers reminds us that for our species “deceit and self-deception are two sides of the same coin”. Lying and the art of lying are as old as human kind, and our ability to deceive others as well as ourselves is a part of some deep rooted aspect of our survival mechanisms that in our late stage and civilizational decay have become neither healthy nor part of that age old propagation of survival tools that can keep us safe from the perversities and horrors of our own dark minds.

The bunker marks off a military space – that of the last war game, a game that all nations elaborated and perfected together in the course of the last century.

—Paul Virilio, Bunker Archaeology

Armageddon House. Already the name beckons us toward doomsday, toward some strange apocalyptic world of deadly consequence. Four adults, two men, two women: buried alive in what all assume is a Test. A test for what? As one of the members of this motley crew, Polly, in Michael Griffin’s new horror novel tells us

 “We’re like a simulation of the big test they’ll do later, somewhere farther away. Isn’t that right? Like, a test for a test. I mean, humanity is just a trial run anyway. Preliminary, that’s the word. Preliminary test. Each test is practice for another test, and that’s practice for the next one. Only, how many? Like, which one is this?”1

af190d929775ce05b478fecccf0333beOne is reminded of those elite bunkers for the rich, doomsday escape holes in the middle of nowhere, underground caves like those reviewed on Forbes: Billionaire Bunkers. Except in the novel the personnell seem more like unwilling participants in a private hell for beleagured denizens of some forgotten nightmare. In this grotesquirie each of the four must willingly or not submit to clean up, a biological disposal project of clearing this enclosed world of its human detritus. One of the members:

“…uses tweezers to gather organic detritus from each work stand into the larger stainless-steel tray atop the roll cart. Tiny snips of detached skin, unwanted eyelids, lobes and appendages, discarded trimmed nails, hairs and eyelashes pulled out by roots, all the flesh scattered amidst blood smears and spatters. Every day, the shedding of these parts leaves behind more waste than all the days before. This avalanche of decay, a kind of incremental death, is necessary for the renewal it brings.”

The morbidity of this sequence adds to an already strange and paradoxical stage set. As if we were watching some old Outer Limits or Twilight Zone parable of our late modernity, of the collapse of civilization into a purified world of decadent enclosure where the minutiae of physical being becomes the last parade of sensual delight under duress. Using an incinerator to sterilize the environment one member lifts the days remains into a wall-mounted oven: ” Inside is yesterday’s tray, now cool, bearing only a trace of sterile ash, easily rinsed away. He removes the clean pan and replaces it with today’s, which bears the last, unwanted remnants of who they were until this morning, and never will be again.” It’s as if each day the groups identity is erased and renewed through this act of ritualized incineration. As he closes the air-tight mechanism and turns on the fire the day’s participant Mark ” is certain he smells life burning away.” One wonders what is being released, what is being renewed. Are the participants slowly shedding not only their skins but their humanity as well.

Each day the four are set with certain routines that have up to now kept them adjusted to the insanity of their situation. But on the occasion of our entry into the novel the routine is disrupted by one of the member’s Polly who has for a while been in search of certain meds she believes lie hidden in one of the out of bounds chambers in this labyrinthine bunker world. As if one had entered one of those Ballardian speculative scenarios in which personalities begin to clash in some psycho ward style dysfunctionalism we begin to see the characters perversities rising to the surface. A hidden tension of subdued violence pervades the various innuendos of conversation until the most physical of the group Greyson as if on que suddenly burst the civil decorum of their secure world and manhandles Mark to the ground over some ape like territorial infraction between himself and his partner Polly. The tone of the work begins to go south from there…

Polly vanishes into the darkness of the immense bunker world. The others follow. They discover a great crack in the walls, a tree root that must reach down from some enormous tree far above the complex, a door in the furthest reaches of some forgotten region with a plaque which states in simple letters “Utgard”. It’s as if we’ve suddenly entered some mythical time and world where the ancient Norse World-Tree and the doorway to the giants – the out world of Jotunheim is situated. Closed off, locked, bound in darkness and unreachable. Even as the shock of this takes hold, they all feel a change in the atmosphere, something has changed, a new sense of things to come; and, Jenna – the most sensible one up till now, seems to awaken from some dream throwing her head back and spouting like an ancient Völuspá:  “The wolf won’t cry forever,” Jenna says, voice high and keening. “Someday he’ll climb out, he’ll ride, he’ll rear up and devour god. Then who’ll be crying?”

Ultimately this is a novel of memory, of lost time, of fragments of lives lost amid disasters and ruins, of picking up the pieces here and there in bits of conversation, remembering what one was and is: the quick and the dead. Most of all the novel is seen through Mark’s eyes and mind, and he seems to have lost something long ago, a part of his mind, life, memories in an alternate past or future – one that each of the others understands and keeps repeating in strange and disquieting ways like the trickle of water against darkness and hopelessness. A knowing, a world refreshing and dying to itself each day, a gun in hand, a darkness turning to light in a glow of blue nihil… a shock.

Visit Michael on his site: GriffinWords
Buy Michael’s book on Undertow Publications or

  1. Griffin, Michael. Armageddon House. Undertow Publications (May 12, 2020)


S.P. Miskowski: The Worst Is Yet To Come

Death was the motif; it had perhaps been the motif all along. Death and the way of handling it—that was the motif of the story…

—V. S. Naipaul, The enigma of arrival

CaptureEnigma, from the Latin “riddle”, a tale of woven threads, a strange whirl of slow moving images that cocoon like trap us in a labyrinth of deceit and self-deception. On finishing S.P. Miskowski’s novel The Worst Is Yet To Come I feel like one of those creatures stung, caught in-between two worlds – one world familiar and canny, a place I know because I’ve instilled it with a lifetime of meaning and emotions; the other, a world of uncanny strangeness, a realm in which my mind is trapped as in a spider’s web, a victim of some nightmare master of riddles.

I still do not know what happened, what transpired. I’m baffled. And, yet, I’m haunted by this tale, left in a state of enigmatic quandary without any sense of resolution. Some tales are like that, untidy, leaving you to pursue your own solution to the enigma, the author like some stage magician leading you up to the dénouement then enclosing you in a void behind a curtain of darkness from which you will slowly drift off into sleep unknowing of the one thought, the one word that might release you from your bondage, free you to penetrate the secrets of the riddle.

We know this much: this is a tale with no absolute ending, a tale that weaves its silent mysteries like so many strands of a cottonwood around our lives. Two families, two young girls, a riddle of horror woven of fatality and accident. But are there ever really any accidents? Are we not all puppets being guided by dark and hidden strings of some infernal riddle master whose sole joy is in seeing us twisted in a mesh of pain and misery. Or, is it simpler than that? Maybe the truth is there is no plot, no narrative behind the enigma of our lives, just a vicious circle of unresolved riddles without answers.

Miskowski’s tale places each of the characters in a web of accident and mayhem. A father whose drug habit leads to the disappearance of a daughter. A newlywed’s momentary decision of madness will lead to a revenge play in which Death is the only one who holds all the keys. And the lives of two young girls whose identities like all enigmas is never completely revealed. This is the kind of tale in which you as the Reader, the riddle-master’s assistant will be led down the path of broken dreams where any hope of solution becomes an enigma itself.

Skillute, WA – the city of nightmares and dreams, a place that seems to act like a magnet drawing the world’s children of darkness into its web of deceit. Like Lovecraft or Faulkner, S.P. Miskowski has discovered in the notion of genius loci – the elemental drift of imaginative need a “spirit of place” as old as time itself. It’s a site that is neither in or out of time’s dark vale, a place where strangeness makes its home and habitation. A place where the dead and the living situate themselves on the edge of the never never. It’s here in this strange land of the American Nightmare of agony where all our social ills are on display, refined by a skewed vision, a warped parallax of dread and terror. A place that on the surface is just another normal redneck town situated in Bigotsville U.S.A.; and yet under the tinsel city façade is another world, a hidden world of horror that thrives on murder and mayhem. It’s this darker world that peaks out from time to time in Miskowski’s narrative revealing its serpent’s head; and, yet, not stepping into the full light of time, but rather like a murky backwater wrapped in the flakes of cottonwood webs pulling us down into a deeper enigma from which there is neither escape nor redemption. This is Skillute’s riddle and enigma: a place where only death reigns supreme.

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S.P. Miskowski is a recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships. Her stories have been published in Supernatural Tales, Black Static, Identity Theory, Strange Aeons and Eyedolon Magazine as well as in the anthologies Haunted Nights, The Madness of Dr. Caligari, October Dreams 2, Autumn Cthulhu, Cassilda’s Song, The Hyde Hotel, Darker Companions: Celebrating 50 Years of Ramsey Campbell, Tales from a Talking Board, Looming Low and The Best Horror of the Year Volume Ten. Her second novel, I Wish I Was Like You, was named This Is Horror 2017 Novel of the Year. Her books have received three Shirley Jackson Award nominations and a Bram Stoker Award® nomination. Her M.F.A. is from the University of Washington. Her novels and novellas have been published by Omnium Gatherum, Dim Shores, Dunhams Manor Press and JournalStone/Trepidatio. She is represented by Danielle Svetcov at Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency.

The City In Ruins: Joel Lane’s Lost Distract

CaptureThe more I read Joel Lane (working through my second collection The Lost District..) I’ve begun to realize that the hidden monster roaming the underbelly of the Black Country is the cityscapes of late capitalism, the ruins it has left behind, the corruption and toxicity of its duplicitous deregulation and dehumanizing processes. It’s this more than even the stubborn misfits and darkening minds that inhabit his bleak inscapes which is the true anti-hero of his fictions. Knowing he was a committed Socialist makes me realize that his works are personal critiques of our dark days under the broken system of capitalist culture and society which Marx described as “dead labor, that, vampire-like, only lives sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.” Joel’s ability to touch the human in the midst of this wasteland is at the core of this bleak vision, and knowing as he does that nothing in our time is not stained by this corruption gives you a sense of the horror that most of us try to pretend isn’t there. He makes you not only see what is right in front of your face, but also touch that which cannot be made visible: the bloody beast of capitalism itself wriggling like some demented archon of madness just below the threshold. As Ramsey Campbell once said of Joel:

“As for his own work, it was as profound as his critiques. It was driven by the political beliefs he passionately held without, to my knowledge, ever trying to impose them on anyone, and by his deep humanism and his sympathy for his characters, often the excluded or oppressed.”


All the Things We Never See by Michael Kelly


Along with other collections I also began reading Michael Kelly’s All Things We Never See. Mark Fisher speaks of the eerie as an enigma of agency, a sense of that shadowy gap between presence and absence as if something should be there that isn’t; or that something that is there shouldn’t be. Michael’s first tale falls into that feeling of the enigma and eerily awakens in me a sense of both real and unreal happenings. On one hand it’s a tale of death, the death of a relationship: a couple trying for a moment to recapture a sense of something they both know has been lost, a knowing of some unknown gap that has opened up between them; an emptiness and absence that will never be filled again. And, yet, like many of us we continue to go through the motions, continue to try to make things work, try to fill that gap with false dreams and memories. It never works, it always fails. Yet, what happens now… what do we do with this failure? Ultimately it’s this enigma of a failing relationship that is confronted in a way that is both eerie and weird. It’s this transition between the two that keeps us reading the tale, not that it will be resolved, but that it will linger like all enigmas do in our mind like a lure pulling us toward the unknown and the darkness.

Reading the stories one is reminded “What is it we really see when we see?” These stories move beyond meaning, beyond the linguistic traps we set for ourselves, the deceptions of language and thought, and send us down into that realm of affective darkness where the churning impulses of will and drive, anxiety and terror sing to us without meaning and bring to us only the inner turmoil of emotions and deliriums. Each tale seems more like a dream sequence in some diary of secret desires, vignettes that are meant to trigger certain emotions and not others. I’ve not yet finished the book but feel its movements hollowing out a space in my inner being releasing spiders of memory and emotions that seem more like channeling rhythms of some deep ritualized world of ancient stars and alien aspirations.

Rod Reynolds: The Dark Inside

Smoke swirled around the room, and the gritty smell of gunpowder cloyed in my nose and throat.

—Reynolds, Rod. The Dark Inside

Just finished The Dark Inside by a Londoner Rod Reynolds, with a “successful career in advertising, working as a media buyer, who decided to get serious about writing”. Looking for a new crime novel, and originally hailing from Louisiana and Texas I began tracing various venues for something different. I found it in this noirish work set in that in-between city, Texarkana. A city drifting between Texas and Arkansas that seems to sit on the border between hell and paradise. It’s the sort of place you’d love to visit, but not if there is a murderer on the loose.

I’d decided to go in blind on this one, only acknowledging that Rod had received some good reviews. I was pleasantly surprised that he’d set this novel in the late 1940’s post-war era. East Texas is home to the likes of Joe R. Lansdale whose crime fiction has garnered praise for years. Works like The Bottoms, Leather Maiden, Freeze Burn and the like have honed into the edgy world of dark, along with his series of Hap and Leonard. So I was already quickly enchanted to enter this local having lived outside Shreveport, LA as a child on my grandparents old depression era farm.

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On Whiskey Devil by Christian Galacar…

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

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Christopher Slatsky: The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature


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:

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:
Buy Greener Pastures from links at Apex Publishers

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


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:

“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


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


Published by Cold2TheBones:

  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:
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:

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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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.


  • 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


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). 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)