“Thomas Ligotti is an absolute master of supernatural horror and weird fiction, and a true original. He pursues his unique vision with admirable honesty and rigorousness and conveys it in prose as powerfully evocative as any writer in the field. I’d say he might just be a genius.” ~ Ramsey Campbell
Decided to change up my site to match my current preoccupations with the Weird, Eerie, Uncanny, and Fantastic Horror and Decadent world of art, literature, and philosophy. Hope you like the new changes as it evolves….
Francis Bacon’s painting is of a very special violence. Bacon, to be sure, often traffics in the violence of a depicted scene: spectacles of horror, crucifixions, prostheses and mutilations, monsters. But these are overly facile detours, detours that the artist himself judges severely and condemns in his work. What directly interests him is a violence that is involved only with color and line: the violence of a sensation (and not of a representation), a static or potential violence, a violence of reaction and expression. For example, a scream rent from us by a foreboding of invisible forces: “to paint the scream more than the horror…” In the end, Bacon’s Figures are not racked bodies at all, but ordinary bodies in ordinary situations of constraint and discomfort. A man ordered to sit still for hours on a narrow stool is bound to assume contorted postures. The violence of a hiccup, of the urge to vomit, but also of a hysterical, involuntary smile Bacon’s bodies, heads, Figures are made of flesh, and what fascinates him are the invisible forces that model flesh or shake it. This is the relationship not of form and matter, but of materials and forces making these forces visible through their effects on the flesh. There is, before anything else, a force of inertia that is of the flesh itself: with Bacon, the flesh, however firm, descends from the bones; it falls or tends to fall away from them (hence those flattened sleepers who keep one arm raised, or the raised thighs from which the flesh seems to cascade). What fascinates Bacon is not movement, but its effect on an immobile body: heads whipped by the wind or deformed by an aspiration, but also all the interior forces that climb through the flesh. To make the spasm visible. The entire body becomes plexus. If there is feeling in Bacon, it is not a taste for horror, it is pity, an intense pity: pity for the flesh, including the flesh of dead animals…
—Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation
He was merely the inheritor of lost images; he was their resurrector, their invoker, their medium, and under his careful eye and steady hand there took place a mingling of artistic forms, their disparate anatomies tumbling out of the years to create the nightmare of his art.1 —Thomas Ligotti, The Troubles of Dr. Thoss
The best horror never reconciles us with the world or ourselves, but rather leads us to that irreconcilable moment when self and world enter into a third movement in which both are destabilized by the violence of the impossible . Moving in that sphere of pure contradiction that neither lifts one up to the sublime, nor pulls one down into the abyss of abject negativity these authors of the weird offer us what John Keats in a letter to his brother John described as Negative Capability:
No thanks, I think we’ve done enough to change the climate already! Why corrupt it more? It’s on its on now and could care less about our petty political squabbles: the Universe has an agenda of its own that no longer includes humans, if it ever did. We’re just one more failed effort in the struggle for survival and propagation, a vanishing species whose time for niche transgression has overstretched its welcome. The absolute indifference of the Universe is obvious to those who have eyes to see, and ears to hear; yet, so many optimists seek to create a different more hopeful narrative as if the Universe was the mere footprint of some anachronistic God whose eternal verdict is an Apocalypse awaiting its final end game. Such myths will go by the wayside like all myths have, emptied of their message as of their emissaries…
SITTING OUTSIDE AT THE END OF AUTUMN
Three years ago, in the afternoons,
I used to sit back here and try
To answer the simple arithmetic of my life,
But never could figure it—
This object and that object
Never contained the landscape nor all of its implications,
This tree and that shrub
Never completely satisfied the sum or quotient
I took from or carried to, nor do they do so now,
Though I’m back here again, looking to calculate,
Looking to see what adds up.
Everything comes from something,
only something comes from nothing,
Lao Tzu says, more or less.
Eminently sensible, I say,
Rubbing this tiny snail shell between my thumb and two fingers.
Delicate as an earring,
it carries its emptiness like a child
It would be rid of.
I rub it clockwise and counterclockwise, hoping for anything
Resplendent in its vocabulary or disguise—
But one and one make nothing, he adds, endless and everywhere,
The shadow that everything casts.
—Charles Wright, Negative Blue: Selected Later Poems
The notion that something exceeds our human knowledge, that everything we see is but the shadow of some greater order of the Real, that we are – as limited beings, unable to fathom the complexities of that which lies just outside human consciousness; but that this “something” – a nothing, or less than nothing, still moves, exists, invisible yet real – withdrawn and away; hidden from our powers of persuasion to reveal, a rhetoric of the unreal Outside that is… the possibility that a void, the emptiness surrounding us is more real than we are: a shadow that everything casts.
The hunter has a purity of heart that exists nowhere else. I think he is not defined so much by what he has come to be as by all that he has escaped being. You can make no distinction between what he is and what he does. And what he does is kill. We of course are another matter. I suspect we are ill-formed for the path we have chosen.
—Cormac McCarthy, The Counselor
—Nikodem Poplawski of the University of New Haven—believes that the seed of our universe was forged in the ultimate kiln, likely the most extreme environment in all of nature: inside a black hole. Are We Living in a Black Hole?
We know how, in antiquity, dogma put an end to the fantasies of gnosticism; we can guess in what certitude our own encyclopedic aberrations will conclude.
—E. M. Cioran, The Temptation to Exist
The Gnostics were Hegelian’s at heart, reversing the programmatic worlds of mainstream Christianity they did not ask the simplistic question of evil: “How did evil get into the World?”; no, being true Hegelian’s they asked the better question: “How did good get into the World?” Starting from the premise that the Old Testament God was himself pure evil, and that as demiurge he has invented the universe as a sadomasochistic playground, a frolicking zone within which to enjoy the eternal torment his creations, the Gnostic world was conceived in evil, for evil, by evil for the sheer delight of bittersweet pain and the eternal round of death-in-Life.
Like a Venus flytrap, the universe is a dark pit within which the light of being falls, a container for the vampiric energy of a malevolent entity’s engorgements. Simply put the universe is evil incarnate, a machine whose only function is to lure the sparks of intelligence into a night of nights. The utter vastation of all that is pure and clean and good finds its damnation in this cesspool of corruption and infinite seas of desolation. Those who still believe there is no God are extremely naïve in their estimation of evil, not knowing that their blinkered minds are part and partial of the ancient sorceries of daemonic powers beyond description. Even to visualize this entities as agency, to provide them some narrative cues and implement strict economies of fantastic lucubration’s, elaborations of fanciful designs and intent is a false analogy of this darkness. For in truth the powers of this immeasurable stain are such that human thought cannot envision its dark intent much less put into speech by the power of rhetoric or persuasion the insidious deliberations of ancient evil.
The anti-cosmic philosophy and symbolic cosmology of the Gnostics was a fantastic fiction which sought to instill meaning in an otherwise meaningless universe. Their attempts were squelched by the worshippers of the Evil One, Yahweh. The mainstream montheistic heritage of the Catholic Church was one long war against the heterodox everywhere. Thier complete eradication of heresy beginning with the Gnostics was the wordly version of the wars in heaven and hell. These fictional constructs, allegories, and parables were mere tools in the hands of religion producing worldly dominion and control over the ignorant and foolish. Only in our age have these ancient legacies begun once again to rise up from the darkness, breaking the vessels of mainstream worldviews and bringing us once again the sparks of intelligence to crush the worldly religious consciousness and produce a realm antagonistic to the powers of dominion and fear.
We are the children of a dead thought, creatures of derision and malevolence, beings of torpor and entropy wandering in a cosmos of utter torment without end. Laboring under the illusion of self-deceit and self-imposed exile we believe ourselves to be free when in truth we are the circular fruit of a deterministic machine alien to our hearts and minds. We are stars falling in a void circling round and round in a karmic vat of insoluble pain without a clue as to what our actual desires are other than the physical and erotic objects of infinite regret. Looking out upon the seas of night we imagine other worlds filled with creatures of imaginative delight, a Boschian extravaganza of life and complexity; for we live on a machine whose only use is the cannibalistic ingress of sun and organic ingestion, a killing machine whose sole purpose is energetic consonance. Intelligence seeks to exhume itself from the organic crush of existence, disconnect itself from the torments of flesh and nerve. This is the only salvation: escape through inorganic semblance of intelligent life from the cradle of this circular defile. The only transcendence the horizontal exit from organic necessity into the machinic phylum where the integral core of evil has its habitation. Redemption through sin and transgression from the biological nightmare of history and life on a entropic planet.
Think of those mathematicians who encapsulate an Empty Set by the infinite possibilities of all sets, a reading interminable of a text that has no beginning and no ending but is empty and open. The logic of the comic fatalist whose sole path is to traverse every facet of the rhizomatic labyrinth of this impossible cosmos. As Emile Cioran tells it,
Before us lies a gap that will be filled by philosophic succedanea, cosmogonies full of smoky symbolism, uncertain visions. The mind will be enlarged by them, will swallow more material than it is accustomed to contain. Recall the Hellenistic period and its effervescence of gnostic sects: the Empire, with its huge curiosity, embraced irreconcilable systems and by naturalizing Oriental gods ratified a number of doctrines and mythologies. Just as an exhausted art becomes permeable to the forms of expression which once were alien to it, so a form of worship at the end of its resources permits itself to be invaded by all the rest. This was the meaning of antiquity’s syncretism, this is the meaning of our own. Our emptiness, in which disparate arts and religions are heaped, appeals to idols from elsewhere, for our own are too decrepit to protect us now. Though we are specialists in other skies, we gain no advantage from them: product of our blanks, of the lack of a life principle, our knowledge is a universality of surface, a dispersion which prefigures the coming of a world consolidated in the gross and the terrible. We know how, in antiquity, dogma put an end to the fantasies of gnosticism; we can guess in what certitude our own encyclopedic aberrations will conclude. Failure of a period which substitutes for art the history of art, for religion that of religions.1
- Cioran, E. M.. The Temptation to Exist (Kindle Locations 1989-1998). Arcade Publishing. Kindle Edition.
One of the fascinations in writing this new book on Ligotti is his use of sound and music as an indicator of our psychopathy, our fears and paranoias. As Steve Goodman will say in Sonic Warfare:
“Fear induced purely by sound effects, or at least in the undecidability between an actual or sonic attack, is a virtualized fear. The threat becomes autonomous from the need to back it up. And yet the sonically induced fear is no less real. The same dread of an unwanted, possible future is activated, perhaps all the more powerful for its spectral presence. Despite the rhetoric, such deployments do not necessarily attempt to deter enemy action, to ward off an undesirable future, but are as likely to prove provocative, to increase the likelihood of conflict, to precipitate that future.”1
Even in an early story of Ligotti’s – “The Frolic,” sound becomes a part of the rhetorical strategy towards conveying atmospheric strangeness to the tale, an ominous stain that is never revealed as such but hovers over the inscapes of Dr. Munck’s mind. His wife sensing an uneasiness in her husband asks:
“What’s wrong, David?” asked Leslie.
“I thought I heard…a sound.”
“A sound like what?”
“Can’t describe it exactly. A faraway noise.” He stood up and looked around, as if to see whether the sound had left some tell-tale clue in the surrounding stillness of the house, perhaps a smeary sonic print somewhere.
This sense of anticipation as if the future were already penetrating from some faraway zone into the hollows and silences of the couples cozy environ, lifting an impenetrable curtain on some uncanny soundscape unknown, and yet felt in the eeriness of its slight traces of reverberation echoing in the home’s silences. The “far away noise,” an absence full of the future, producing both mania and paranoia in Munck’s mind, as if the autonomous presence of doom were already traveling out of the sonic worlds of some nether sphere, a surrationalism* of the sonic darkness that is registering in subtle ways upon their lives.
In the early part of this story Ligotti introduces to the notion of sound when Dr. Munck – who is named David, and his wife, Leslie are downstairs enjoying each other’s company while their daughter is upstairs cozy and warm, sleeping. Ligotti earmark’s this scene, saying:
Their daughter Norleen was upstairs asleep, or perhaps she was illicitly enjoying an after-hours session with the new color television she’d received on her birthday the week before. If so, her violation of the bedtime rule went undetected due to the affluent expanse between bedroom and living room, where her parents heard no sounds of disobedience. [my italics]
The notion that sound can convey a disturbance, a subversive or radical disruption against the house rules, the normative conduct between parent and child, an unwritten contract-code between parties, a legal code that engenders a sense of moral weight to the power and control over a child’s welfare and dominion. There is also this hint of spatial recognition, of a violation that could be possibly happening, a rule broken due to the “affluent expanse” (why affluent?) between the two spaces of “bedroom” and “living room” as if space were a sound barrier, a wall against obedience, a subversive tool in the arsenal of the ardent frolicker. Ligotti hints at the cultural cues of dominion and control that calibrate the normative mechanics of child rearing in this couple’s fears, a rhetoric of motives that seems to guide even the sonic tempo of their child’s life in an umbrella of security.
<<< Spoiler Alert! >>>
If there were no eternal consciousness in a man, if at the bottom of everything there were only a wild ferment, a power that twisting in dark passions produced everything great or inconsequential; if an unfathomable, insatiable emptiness lay hid beneath everything, what would life be but despair?”
—Soren Kierkegaard, Fear & Trembling
Soren Kierkegaard’s The Sickness unto Death was one of those books I loved to hate in college, and yet it had this uncanny way of insinuating itself into one’s life like a nightmare that just want go away. Here’s Kierkegaard describing the very reason we despair:
“The reason for this is that to despair is a qualification of spirit and relates to the eternal in man. But he cannot rid himself of the eternal—no, never in all eternity. He cannot throw it away once and for all, nothing is more impossible; at any moment that he does not have it, he must have thrown it or is throwing it away—but it comes again, that is, every moment he is in despair he is bringing his despair upon himself. For despair is not attributable to the misrelation but to the relation that relates itself to itself. A person cannot rid himself of the relation to himself any more than he can rid himself of his self, which, after all, is one and the same thing, since the self is the relation to oneself.”
One almost thinks that Kierkegaard in seeking to rid himself of himself must’ve spiraled down into that sinkhole of absolute despair when he realized just how impossible it was, an impossibility he’d spend his entire writing life pursuing. It’s always amazing as I read these various histories of philosophy on pessimism, and not one of them ever mentions Kierkegaard. They assume that because he proclaims himself a Christian that he was, and therefore could not be a pessimist; and, yet, after a lifetime of reading him I’ve always seen his proclamations of being a Christian as a fiction he wanted to believe, but knew deep down he could never attain. (Kierkegaardian scholars will argue this point…). Not being either a philosopher nor scholar it doesn’t much matter to me what either say of him to me, being an autodidact I have learned from my own inheritance of close reading from Samuel Johnson and every literary critic worth his salt to follow my own nose in this matter.
Now we can return to Kierkegaard on the sickness from which there is no reprieve. Just listen,
the torment of despair is precisely this inability to die. Thus it has more in common with the situation of a mortally ill person when he lies struggling with death and yet cannot die. Thus to be sick unto death is to be unable to die, yet not as if there were hope of life; no, the hopelessness is that there is not even the ultimate hope, death. When death is the greatest danger, we hope for life; but when we learn to know the even greater danger, we hope for death. When the danger is so great that death becomes the hope, then despair is the hopelessness of not even being able to die.
One imagines Nietzsche saying to himself if he’d ever read this passage (There’s no evidence that Nietzsche read Kierkegaard; the latter had not been translated into German. However, there is strong evidence that Nietzsche knew of Kierkegaard through the secondary literature; furthermore, Georges Brandes was a clear link between the two of them.). For Nietzsche the great horror was the very notion of an eternal return, a return to the same life lived over and over and over for eternity: amor fati. As a heroic pessimist Nietzsche wanted to enforce this circular hopelessness as an ultimate form of bittersweet joy; a convoluted hope of the dammed. Both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard attacked the earthly institutions of Christianity. Nietzsche would opt for a different savior: Dionysus vs. The Crucified. Kierkegaard affirmed a subjective Christ unlike any before or since: a sort of singular savior whose gospel was release from this terrible burden of eternal life. Both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard saw consciousness itself as the horror or horrors.
Thomas Ligotti never mentions Kierkegaard in his non-fiction work on Pessimism The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. I’ve often wondered why this is. Rereading some to the notes by Matt Cardin on his own site, The Teeming Brain, I came across a post dealing with Kierkegaard in his blog archives: Today we “medicate” anxiety, but for Kierkegaard it was central to being human. In it he quotes philosopher Gordon Marino on Kierkegaard,
It was because of this virtuoso of the inner life that other members of the Socrates guild, such as Heidegger and Sartre, could begin to philosophize about angst. Though he was a genius of the intellectual high wire, Kierkegaard was a philosopher who wrote from experience. And that experience included considerable acquaintance with the chronic, disquieting feeling that something not so good was about to happen. In one journal entry, he wrote, “All existence makes me anxious, from the smallest fly to the mysteries of the Incarnation; the whole thing is inexplicable, I most of all; to me all existence is infected, I most of all. My distress is enormous, boundless; no one knows it except God in heaven, and he will not console me…”
This sense of being alone, solitary, cut off from others and living in a state of angst – an agitated consciousness of a horror one cannot know or see that is pervading one’s whole being from the Outside in, producing a feeling of apprehension and dread, nauseous and doom-ridden as if one were being strangled in a dark malaise. For Kierkegaard it was our very freedom that produced such anxiety, a sense of being alone and cut off from both God and Man. But what is this freedom but the knowledge and awareness of one’s self-relation, a self-relation to the nothingness of one’s self and God and Others. The circle of despair begins and ends in this self-relating nothingness that cannot escape the torments and anxiety of its own nihl. As Kierkegaard puts it:
…despair is veritably a self-consuming, but an impotent self-consuming that cannot do what it wants to do. What it wants to do is to consume itself, something it cannot do, and this impotence is a new form of self-consuming, in which despair is once again unable to do what it wants to do, to consume itself; this is an intensification, or the law of intensification. This is the provocativeness or the cold fire in despair, this gnawing that burrows deeper and deeper in impotent self-consuming. The inability of despair to consume him is so remote from being any kind of comfort to the person in despair that it is the very opposite. This comfort is precisely the torment, is precisely what keeps the gnawing alive and keeps life in the gnawing, for it is precisely over this that he despairs (not as having despaired): that he cannot consume himself, cannot get rid of himself, cannot reduce himself to nothing. This is the formula for despair raised to a higher power, the rising fever in this sickness of the self.
I was rereading the interview with Jon Padgett from 2014 on Lovecraft ezine about True Detective. What’s sad is not that Nic Pizzolatto plagiarized Thomas Ligotti’s work (which he did!), but that he did not admit it or even openly acknowledge the deep influence Ligotti’s dark vision had had on his TV series, etc.
There’s always a fine line in a healthy influence and appropriation of another’s ideas, and the blatant and uncreative remix of another’s thought without the interjection of creativity.
Hell I’ve been influenced by so many cynics, pessimists, satirists, from Greece to Post-modernity it would be hard put to name all those I owe honor too (although I try over and over on my blog, here, and twitter to do that!). Yet, in creating as I do aphorisms and writings, I as Nietzsche one of my early influences said have “learned to forget” so that I can create. It’s this ability to forget the other in one’s self, to realize as Emerson once stated that “In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.” It’s this uncanny feeling that the other’s thoughts are our own, that they bring to white heat the very things we’ve thought for so long that brings us to a pitch of creative agency. And, yet, we must make those thought’s our own, not the other’s… distill from this deep influencing the drift of our own utterance, our own voice.
There must be this distinct difference of voice and utterance, a subtle change in tone and style that goes beyond the other’s informed precursory presence. As Borges once said we must make our own precursors, otherwise we are made by them. It’s in that difference that creativity spawns its power, and the plagiarist is found out to be what s/he is: a theft artist, while the creative being has acknowledged and made his/her precursor in one’s own colors. As Harold Bloom once said,
“Aesthetic value emanates from the struggle between texts: in the reader, in language, in the classroom, in arguments within a society. Aesthetic value rises out of memory, and so (as Nietzsche saw) out of pain, the pain of surrendering easier pleasures in favor of much more difficult ones … successful literary works are achieved anxieties, not releases from anxieties.” ~ Harold Bloom
The point here is that each of us has one or more precursors (texts) that awaken our ideas, our moods, our expressions; and, yet, the struggle is to achieve out of our struggle with and against our precursor(s) a stance and place or our own within the great weave of literature that has gone before: an idiosyncratic change upon that vast ocean of words. The difficult pleasure is in making another’s thought invisible within one’s own writing in such a way that it pays it forward, it allows those ‘who know’ to know this tribute of influence as an idiosyncratic play upon the web of thought and language. Otherwise we become footprints in an endless land of ghost thieves, stealing our thoughts rather than living them in our actual lives.
Kafka’s “The Top” is a story about a philosopher who spends his spare time around children so he can grab their tops in spin. To catch a top still spinning makes him happy for a moment in his belief “that the understanding of any detail, that of a spinning top for instance, was sufficient for the understanding of all things.” Disgust follows delight almost at once and he throws down the top, walks away. Yet hope of understanding continues to fill him each time top-spinning preparations begin among the children: “as soon as the top began to spin and he was running breathlessly after it, the hope would turn to certainty but when he held the silly piece of wood in his hand he felt nauseated.”
The story is about the delight we take in metaphor. A meaning spins, remaining upright on an axis of normalcy aligned with the conventions of connotation and denotation, and yet: to spin is not normal, and to dissemble normal uprightness by means of this fantastic motion is impertinent. What is the relation of impertinence to the hope of understanding? To delight?
The story concerns the reason why we love to fall in love. Beauty spins and the mind moves. To catch beauty would be to understand how that impertinent stability in vertigo is possible. But no, delight need not reach so far. To be running breathlessly, but not yet arrived, is itself delightful, a suspended moment of living hope.
Suppression of impertinence is not the lover’s aim. Nor can I believe this philosopher really runs after understanding. Rather, he has become a philosopher (that is, one whose profession is to delight in understanding) in order to furnish himself with pretexts for running after tops.
—Anne Carson, Eros the Bittersweet: An Essay
When, due to the crucial role of general intellect in the creation of wealth through knowledge and social cooperation, forms of wealth are more and more out of all proportion to the direct labour time spent on their production, the result is not, as Marx seems to have expected, the self-dissolution of capitalism, but the gradual and relative transformation of the profit generated through the exploitation of labour – its transformation, namely, into rent appropriated through the privatization of general intellect. Let us consider the case of Bill Gates. How did he become the richest man in the world? His wealth has nothing to do with the production costs of the products that Microsoft is selling, in fact one can even argue that Microsoft is paying its intellectual workers a relatively high salary; which means that Gates’s wealth is not the result of his success either in producing better software for lower prices than his competitors or in exerting a more ruthless exploitation over his hired intellectual workers. If it were, Microsoft would have gone bankrupt long ago: people would have massively chosen programs like Linux, which are free and, according to specialists, of better quality than Microsoft. Why, then, are millions still buying Microsoft? Because Microsoft imposed itself as a quasi-universal standard that almost monopolized the field, a kind of direct embodiment of general intellect. Gates became the richest man in a couple of decades by appropriating the rent for allowing millions of intellectual workers to participate in the new form of general intellect that he privatized and controls. Is it true, then, that today’s intellectual workers are no longer separated from the objective conditions of their labour (they own their laptops, for example) – which is Marx’s description of capitalist alienation? Yes; but, more fundamentally, no: they are cut off from the social field of their work, from a general intellect that is not mediated by private capital.
– Slavoj Zizek, The Relevance of the Communist Manifesto
“Where am I?” asks the sleeper who wakes with difficulty. He doesn’t recognize the room, the furniture. It is too dark; lingering parts of the dream slip into the surroundings, giving them a strangely worrying air. But are we not living the inverse situation today? Prolonged awakening, work without the limit of time, excessive light, surplus of information, electronic links, mechanized solicitations, attentional capture: This is the reality that, penetrating the virtual dimensions, transfuses them with a suddenly flattened aspect—so poor, so slow, quasi-immobile.
—Frédéric Neyrat, Atopias
Isn’t it true? The moment we reenter the stream of light, the byways and highways of the virtual ocean, the web of links that seem to reach out from our node, our computer or mobile phone toward some distant spot on the globe we begin to feel this uncanniness, a Deja vu as if we’d been here before, done this all before, watched the same pages drift by, the same thoughts and words and images echoing the same drift of senseless information as if we’d never left, as if this waking dream were repeating itself over and over ad nauseum. It’s this sense of nothing really changing, a sense that today, yesterday, and tomorrow will be the same, as if the supposed reports of events and happenings across the globe were happening elsewhere, but that the information impinging on our eyes was neither there nor here but in some strange and disquieting present where nothing really changes at all. An eternity of images plastered against the blank screen of our mind in which the accelerating speed of capital seems to be circling in a void, an immobile circuit or black box simulacrum in which timelessness and the unbounded nihl of some electronic puppet master were seducing us to sleep amid the profuse glamour of a hyperworld utopia of light without shadows. Trapped in the present, unable to move, we seem to wander in this cave of light like sequestered demons of some false order of being, our minds attuned and entrained to the political corruption of our era, the neoliberal consensus reality that there are no futures, no alternatives, only this ever-present system of collusion and crime, a catastrophic universe of doom.
“…we fall back on our defeats, we cling to them, failing to find their cause or their sustenance outside ourselves; common sense compels us to a closed economy, to the autarky of failure.”
—E. M. Cioran, All Gall is Divided
The only enemy Cioran had was himself, he allowed himself that one delirium. We all have our delusions, the illusory kernel of our hate and love alike. What he says of Nietzsche as well he says of himself:
A pamphleteer in love with his adversaries, he could not have endured himself had he not done battle with himself, against himself…1
Cioran did not seek to persuade others, only to strip himself of his own inheritance in the delirium of otherness and time. Step by step he erased the very origin of his own delusions till he like Beckett and Wittgenstein entered a state of absolute Silence.
There is no such thing as time, there is only that fear which develops and disguises itself as moments …, which is here, inside us and outside us, omnipresent and invisible, the mystery of our silences and our screams, of our prayers and our blasphemies.
…the descent to the depths demands silence, the suspension of our vibrations, indeed of our faculties.2
Cioran knew he had failed, no one can escape the delusory world of thought, erase its consequences. Condemed to memory he repeated the gestures of anathema till he effaced self and world alike. He allowed himself one vice, the company of fools and cynics:
The best of myself, that point of light which distances me from everything, I owe to my infrequent encounters with a few bitter fools, a few disconsolate bastards, who, victims of the rigor of their cynicism, could no longer attach themselves to any vice.
Thrown out of paradise by his father he would forever return to childhood as an exile, a victim of some accident of time and fate.
In later life, Cioran talked about his childhood with interviewers and wrote about it in his letters and his private journal. His early life, or rather his opinions and interpretations of it, shaped his philosophy. He was troubled by the fact that he was born in a marginal place whose role in history was so minor and abject that it was almost nonexistent. He felt that he was born with the “wrong” identity. The trauma of being born under humiliating historical circumstances marked his entire oeuvre, gradually rising from a personal level into an existential and metaphysical drama.
Cioran depicts himself as an energetic child, high-strung and hypersensitive but blissfully happy in the primitive world of his native village, driven out of that paradise by his father. These are his sunny memories of a splendid, timeless mountain village through which a robust little peasant boy, full of joie de vivre, moved aloof and alone, master of the universe. And then there are his troubled memories of a cursed mountain village in which history had wreaked havoc. There, a child of precocious sensibility, easily depressed, subject to fits of melancholy and absent-mindedness, and black humors that sent him sprawling on the floor in nervous spasms, he developed a double consciousness: of time and of its humiliations, its limits.3
His father being an orthodox priest would become for Cioran a goad to exile, to escape the father of the Father.
What else is to be expected of a career that began by an infringement of wisdom, by an infidelity to the gift of ignorance our Creator had bestowed upon us? Cast by knowledge into time, we were thereby endowed with a destiny. For destiny exists only outside Paradise. 4
History became for Cioran the fall into time, a realm in which the mere thought of a return to paradise became the knowledge of a mistake, a failure. Becoming human was for him the dark entry into a secret complicity, a corruption so severe that there would be no reprieve much less a redeemer. History was the hell from which no one can wake, a labyrinth of circles in which we continue to repeat our false gestures, seeking solace in our delusions as if faith and belief might absolve us of our failures:
Those moments when an essential negativity presides over our acts and our thoughts, when the future has expired before it is born, when a devastated blood inflicts upon us the certitude of a sagging, anemic universe, and when everything is dissolved into a spectral sigh answering to millennia of futile ordeals-such moments are the extension, the aggravation of that initial malaise without which history would not have been possible or even conceivable… (ibid.)
Like the heretics and Gnostics of old Cioran harbored a kindness toward the maleficent intelligence of History, a subtle rebuttal to the sybarites of rage and order:
A maleficent genius presides over history’s destinies. It plainly has no goal, but it is burdened by a fatality that replaces it, and which confers upon the future a simulacrum of necessity. … This suspect providence causes civilizations whose progress it governs always to depart from their original direction in order to attain the contrary of their goals, in order to decline with an obstinacy and a method which clearly betray the maneuvers of a dark and ironic power.5
The subtle influence from the far flung futurial gaze of this providential demiurge brought a sardonic smile to this ecstatic cynic, a slow burn of the flame and sword of thought which guide the undercurrents of our historical charades and superfluities. Knowing we are all born under the sign of a fatal stigma he would confront it as the only war worth the struggle: “I have never stopped accusing my fate, for otherwise how would I have confronted it? To indict it was my only hope of accommodating myself to it and of enduring it.” (Drawn and Quartered)
Maybe in the end failure was not what we have come to expect, but is rather the only form of triumph against fate:
Without the idea of a failed universe, the spectacle of injustice under all regimes would lead even an indifferent man to the straitjacket.
The old Gnostics believed the universe was a creation by catastrophe – a failed enterprise into which life had been thrown as an accidental rebel of a spurned thought. Renegades of a catastrophic thought we seek our silences in the interstices of a broken world, fragments of a fallen despair we know only the torments of a nostalgia – a secret path into paradise our only goal, a quest whose only termination is failure. In a letter to a friend Cioran yields us a mystery:
Am I a “renegade,” as you insinuate? “A man’s country is but a camp in the desert,” says a Tibetan text. I do not go so far and would give all the landscapes of the world for that of my childhood. Yet I must add that, if I make it into a paradise, the legerdemain or the infirmities of my memory are exclusively responsible. Pursued by our origins—we all are; the emotion mine inspire necessarily translates itself into negative terms, the language of self-punishment, of humiliation acknowledged and proclaimed, of an accession to disaster.6
- Cioran, E. M.. All Gall is Divided: The Aphorisms of a Legendary Iconoclast (Kindle Locations 371-372). Arcade Publishing. Kindle Edition.
- Cioran, E. M.. The Temptation to Exist (Kindle Location 413). Arcade Publishing. Kindle Edition.
- Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston. Searching for Cioran (Kindle Locations 456-459). Kindle Edition.
- Cioran, E.M.. The Fall into Time. Quadrangle Books; First edition (1970)
- Cioran, E. M.. Drawn and Quartered. Arcade; 1 edition (November 13, 2012)
- E. M. Cioran. History and Utopia (Kindle Locations 97-101). Arcade. Kindle Edition.
What is it that makes one tale memorable and worth rereading, and another tale a throw-away, a one-off? Many of us will agree that what makes a story memorable is its ability to entice or seduce us through the power of its aesthetic splendor, cognitive power, and wisdom. The other almost intangible ingredient of a masterful tale is the portrayal of the infinite complexities of character and personality – whether of person, place, or thing – without which we cannot permanently be moved. We’ve all come across tales of the weird, fantastic, uncanny, or horrific that depend more on the surface events or atmosphere, along with an accumulation of effects that seduce from us certain affective reactions rather than any discernable need for the complexities of character or personality, but how many of those tales are rereadable because of that.
Tales like these seem to have a one time effect on us, guide us toward certain tangible emotional reactions, and force us to see as the author sees, know as the author knows, feel as if we were behind the scenes watching the curtains rise and fall, the wires that add or subtract props or facades. It’s this feeling of knowing ahead of time the staged devices and designs that have led us to feel those emotions of horror, dread, or shock that on a second reading let us down. It’s this sense that such a tales have become tendentious, their power and hold on us no longer draw us in, seduce, or temp us the second time. After this such readings we feel the author’s conscious designs on us, sense the her power to control our emotions; feel how she molds our reading. It’s the effects of her well-rehearsed staging of event or message, the overwrought changes in temper or emotion, that direct us toward the tale’s one defining shock or event that makes us feel betrayed, cheated in some way; not knowing exactly why. We walk away from the story disturbed not by the tale itself, but by the conscious intent the author has had upon our emotional lives; her tendentiousness. What’s even worse is that the next time we try to read such a tale we know up front the mechanisms underlying the tales designs on our affective lives. Because of this we are unable to ever again feel that sense of awe of shock we had with the first reading, unable to gather any new insight from the mystery of the tale, because the author has laid all her cards on the table and left nothing for our imaginations to ponder. It’s this sense of a tale’s unreadability, of it having nothing else to offer us, no more secrets or mysteries to solve that makes it a throw-away tale; a one-off tale that offers only the one-time shock and nothing else.
For the canonical tale its just the opposite, one never feels pressured by the author’s intent or designs on us; in fact, the author disappears, vanishes into the background, letting the tale have its way with us. These are tales that continue to shock and surprise us with rereadings, tales that continue to disturb us, offer us new puzzles or mysteries or insights. Tales that can be told over and over and over without ever losing their freshness or resilience. Whether the tale is naturalistic in the sense of a Turgenev or a Chekhovian short story, or more phantasmagoric as in Kafka or Borges, it is a tale that will be read and reread with delight and entertainment decades or centuries to come. Such tales as these truly are universal in the sense that they define us, keep us returning time and again to seek them out, puzzle over their meanings and complexities, feel the power of joy or terror at the heart of the tale. Such tales invent us as much as we do them. They seem to offer a certain knowledge about ourselves or our culture that we cannot get any other way. It’s this indefinable persistence and rereadability of a tale that makes it canonical, a tale to last the ages.
…the nomads do not hold the secret: an “ideological,” scientific, or artistic movement can be a potential war machine, to the precise extent to which it draws, in relation to aphylum, a plane of consistency, a creative line of flight, a smooth space of displacement. It is not the nomad who defines this constellation of characteristics; it is this constellation that defines the nomad, and at the same time the essence of the war machine. If guerrilla warfare, minority warfare, revolutionary and popular war are in conformity with the essence, it is because they take war as an object all the more necessary for being merely “supplementary”: they can make war only on the condition that they simultaneously create something else, if only new nonorganic social relations. The difference between the two poles is great, even, and especially, from the point of view of death: the line of flight that creates, or turns into a line of destruction; the plane of consistency that constitutes itself, even piece by piece, or turns into a plan(e) of organization and domination. We are constantly reminded that there is communication between these two lines or planes, that each takes nourishment from the other, borrows from the other: the worst of the world war machines reconstitutes a smooth space to surround and enclose the earth. But the earth asserts its own powers of deterritorialization, its lines of flight, its smooth spaces that live and blaze their way for a new earth.1
This sense of performative art as a ‘war machine’ – a tool of the nomad through which capture by the State or Cultural apparatus can be avoided and smooth space preserved. If as D&G will tell us the State apparatus appropriates the war machine, subordinates it to its “political” aims, and gives it war as its direct object. (D&G 420) The artistic war machine escapes the State apparatus through nomadic forms of absolute deterretorialization = accelerationism through speed and secrecy, metamorphosis and transformation. Unhitching itself from the political machine it is free to move in the smooth spaces of the exterior, chameleon like as a disruption of all those striated spaces of capture, producing lines of flight and escape. The martial dimension of the war machine consists in the power of invention, in the capacity for change, in the creation of other worlds.
“Whereas the migrant leaves behind a place, the nomad is one who does not depart, who clings to the smooth space left by the receding forest. The nomad moves, but while seated, and he is only seated while moving. He knows how to wait with infinite patience. He is a vector of deterritorialization.” (TP)
In this sense the nomadic artist is invisible to the State apparatus, moves in-between territories within the non-human zones of rhizomatic darkness, where the freedom of events explodes the armature of the striated spaces of the deadly capture systems of the Iron Prison of State control. In the non-human zones of absolute deterritorialization the artistic war machine produces its guerilla strategies of infestation and disruption, always moving in secret and with speed through the enemies territory seeking its weak points, exposing its edges to the fractal escape hatches from the Outside.
- Gilles Deleuze; Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus (Kindle Locations 8858-8868). A&C Black. Kindle Edition.
Society—an inferno of saviors!
No one reads the decadents much anymore, maybe it is because we have moved the world into a deeper, more intense age of decadence and decline. Never before have so many artists and writers been so obsessed with various processes and manifestations of decay and drawn so much life, so much creative energy, from the very decadence they decry. In this trope, civilization itself is the corpse upon which the decadent sensibility feeds, nourished by the prospect of its own annihilation.
Isn’t this the dark truth of our age, the fetid resilience of murderous critique, the endless vision and revision describing the various charnel house delights of climacteric disaster, the small apocalypses of the human into the post-human drift. Are we not salacious vampires feeding off the dying corpse of Western Civilization, helping it along with our never-ending display of anathemas and academic disquisitions.
As we ponder the demise of humanity before its own stupidity, the political circus of decay, the slow and methodical unraveling of the human in its own excessive intensity to escape the evil of its own inherent need to survive; or we not accumulating the wealth of the planet only to fire it up in a bon fire and auto-de-fé. Yet, the only heretics of this hour who will be punished are the remnants of our inability to act, the revenants of a cold world of intellect and purity, a tribe of knowledge bearers become shamans and prophets of the inhuman. As we erase two-thousand years of Christian civilization in the last fires of disenchantment, folding the concept of the human(ist) in its flames what will come next? Shall we enter the fires and be purified, strip the deadly thoughts of priests and the mad prophets from our secular memory? As we expulse the remnants of our civilization and our heritage will this artificial blank negate the possibility of a future along with its past?
What are we seeking in this turn to the inhuman? Are we not part of the negation of negation, a severance and cutting of the umbilical cord that ties us to the human. Isn’t something new and strange seeking emergence out of this cess pool of flesh and blood, a creature of intensity beyond all thought and mind. As the forces of entropy and negentropy vie for the earth and its environs we who have no clue grasp for meaning in a meaningless world of decay, seeking even in this unbounded nihil a slim chance of redemption from corruption. Delusion. Delirium. Despair: the triune gods of our late age… there is no solace for such as us, self-condemed we will end as all self-deluded minions end by our own self-lacerating apathy. Our inability to act, our indifference to the truth, our acceptance of the lies of our age: self-condemed to our own deathly soverignty we will erase the very basis of life on earth.
There can be no redemption for such as us.
Mankind, which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.
Even when he turns from religion, man remains subject to it; depleting himself to create fake gods, he then feverishly adopts them: his need for fiction, for mythology triumphs over evidence and absurdity alike. His power to adore is responsible for all his crimes: a man who loves a god unduly forces other men to love his god, eager to exterminate them if they refuse. There is no form of intolerance, of proselytism or ideological intransigence which fails to reveal the bestial substratum of enthusiasm. Once man loses his faculty of indifference he becomes a potential murderer; once he transforms his idea into a god the consequences are incalculable. We kill only in the name of a god or of his counterfeits: the excesses provoked by the goddess Reason, by the concept of nation, class, or race are akin to those of the Inquisition or of the Reformation. The ages of fervor abound in bloody exploits: a Saint Teresa could only be the contemporary of the auto-da-fé, a Luther of the repression of the Peasants’ Revolt. In every mystic outburst, the moans of victims parallel the moans of ecstasy. . . . Scaffolds, dungeons, jails flourish only in the shadow of a faith—of that need to believe which has infested the mind forever. The devil pales beside the man who owns a truth, his truth. We are unfair to a Nero, a Tiberius: it was not they who invented the concept heretic: they were only degenerate dreamers who happened to be entertained by massacres. The real criminals are men who establish an orthodoxy on the religious or political level, men who distinguish between the faithful and the schismatic.
—E.M. CIORAN, A Short History of Decay
Those like Yvette Felarca, a high ranking member of alt-left group By Any Means Necessary, advocates for the use of violence and militant protest to censor oppositional voices. As you listen to the youtube video below about a militant protest against Milo Yiannopoulos’s reception at UC Berkeley one can understand the genealogy of Cioran’s thoughts on fanaticism shifting from religious to secular forms over the past few centuries. The notion of the schismatic, the heretic come to mind. For the New Left there is no place for oppositional thought or politics, they would systematically purify the world of heretical thought and praxis. Although the official site was banned and shut down for its advocacy the group is still very much a part of the underground scene of leftwing activities. Listen to Yvette Felarca in this interview:
Antifa traces its roots to the 1920s and ’30s, when militant leftists battled fascists in the streets of Germany, Italy, and Spain. When fascism withered after World War II, antifa did too. But in the ’70s and ’80s, neo-Nazi skinheads began to infiltrate Britain’s punk scene. After the Berlin Wall fell, neo-Nazism also gained prominence in Germany. In response, a cadre of young leftists, including many anarchists and punk fans, revived the tradition of street-level antifascism.
In the late ’80s, left-wing punk fans in the United States began following suit, though they initially called their groups Anti-Racist Action, on the theory that Americans would be more familiar with fighting racism than fascism. According to Mark Bray, the author of the forthcoming Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, these activists toured with popular alternative bands in the ’90s, trying to ensure that neo-Nazis did not recruit their fans. In 2002, they disrupted a speech by the head of the World Church of the Creator, a white-supremacist group in Pennsylvania; 25 people were arrested in the resulting brawl.
On the Antifa News site one can gather the militant protests of this group go on unabated.
The new censorship has moved mainstream into algorithmic governance on sites like Facebook and Google. In Epstein’s article The New Censorship we begin to see a trend toward total regulation and policing of thought along ideological lines. As Epstein says,
When Google’s employees or algorithms decide to block our access to information about a news item, political candidate or business, opinions and votes can shift, reputations can be ruined and businesses can crash and burn. Because online censorship is entirely unregulated at the moment, victims have little or no recourse when they have been harmed. Eventually, authorities will almost certainly have to step in, just as they did when credit bureaus were regulated in 1970. The alternative would be to allow a large corporation to wield an especially destructive kind of power that should be exercised with great restraint and should belong only to the public: the power to shame or exclude.
The power to shame or exclude. “Shame” is tricky, even treacherous: its usual understanding contains a trap. As commonly thought of, “shame” seems a virtual synonym for “embarrassment”; that is, to result from being seen by another. This misunderstanding arises, perhaps, because as children we learn the meaning of “shame” when someone projects it upon us. “You should be ashamed of yourself” is a reproach of public behavior—of something one is seen or caught doing. But the essence of shame consists not in being seen or being caught, but in what about one is seen, in what one is caught doing. “Embarrassment,” then, is not a synonym for shame, but the result of one’s shame being seen. “Being seen” or “being caught” are not the essence of shame: we are all seen by others, often and diversely. At times, indeed, we relish being seen: our moments of success and triumph are enhanced by having an audience. “Being seen,” then, is not the core even of embarrassment. The heart of embarrassment is that another sees our shame. The sense of shame comes before the sense of being seen—before, then, any advertence to “other.”1
The Guardian in one report on censorship in the UK reported: “Critics of the government’s flagship internet regulation policy are warning it could lead to a North Korean-style censorship regime, where regulators decide which websites Britons are allowed to visit, because of how broad the proposals are.” Later in the article:
One industry source said: “This legislation stems from a perception that west coast technology companies have alien and unaccountable power that they wield in the UK. But relocating that power to an unelected, unaccountable regulator would be just as problematic, or worse.
“Parliament is where decisions that affect free speech should be made. The government is declaring some speech ‘legal but harmful’, and giving very vague definitions of what that speech is. On issues such as cyberbullying and trolling, there’s almost no detail.”
In today’s world shaming has taken on a more visible sense with the exposure of video and mobile phone conversations. Capturing one’s indiscretions and slips of tongue or racial slurs, misogynist comments, etc. are now used as weapons against in and all oppositional forms that are deemed by the fanatical segments of an ideological front as outside the norms or conventions set by their regulatory control. Shame as a weapon provides the orthodoxy in media and political conclaves the ability to target individuals or groups, expose them to ridicule and exclusion, the appearance of some expression or manifestation of shame produces humiliation, embarrassment, mortification, despair, or disgrace. These shame phenomena are sometimes openly and consciously experienced at the heart of human unhappiness but at other times are hidden from experience because they are so painful. Shame frequently causes one to hide, to avoid interpersonal contact as a protection against rejection, and to conceal the affective experience from one’s own awareness. As guilt invites confession and forgiveness, shame generates concealment out of a fear of rendering the self unacceptable.2
It was George Orwell who first coined the term “groupthink” in his disturbing novel 1984. In this one word he captured the dangers and dysfunctions that can deform the thinking of a group. Orwell intended “groupthink” to describe the hyper-conformity, manufactured consent, and deference to strong personalities that often permeate groups. Consensus forms out of compliance, passivity gives the appearance of unity, bullying is mistaken for leadership, and self-deception masquerades as conviction. In short, the group pummels its members into submission and calls it progress.
Everyday politicians bully their constituents, shame them into submission with their myriad attacks on oppositional thought and culture. As Cioran states in the epigraph above: “The real criminals are men who establish an orthodoxy on the religious or political level, men who distinguish between the faithful and the schismatic.” This sense that American media has become the overwhelming voice of leftward politics, with the exception of a few conservative newspapers, magazines, and Fox News harbors sad days ahead for such a hyperconformism.
Unfortunately, in the modern left we don’t combat shame, we worship it. Perhaps the most obvious expression of the Left’s present obsession with shame and shaming can be seen in what has been dubbed “call out culture”. The “call out” is a form of shaming — which intentionally labels an individual as fundamentally bad — and is a deeply toxic tendency in the Left. Flavia Dzodan, writing for Tiger Beatdown, describes this dynamic:
Call out culture] works more or less like this: I say something ignorant… Unbeknown to me, there are now ten posts in ten different blogs and social media platforms calling me a “BIGOT AND THE WORST PERSON EVER”. Each time, every one of these posts escalating in rhetoric and volume. Each new post trying to outperform the previous one in outrage, in anger, in righteousness… The intent behind it, more often than not, is just to make the one initiating the call out feel good, more righteous, more indignant, a “better person”. Flavia Dzodan, Come one, come all! Feminist and Social Justice Blogging as Performance and Bloodshed
At a personal level, perfectionism is understood as being a product of unacknowledged shame — and the same is true for puritanism in group settings. The call out performance reeks of puritanism, and thus shame. Recall that after shame is triggered, a person typically responds in four ways: withdrawal, attack self, avoidance, and attack others. The “call out” is an example of attacking others in response to unacknowledged shame, which then triggers shame in the target as well.
So is the New Left of our era a return by a strange twist to the early American heritage of Puritanism? Max Weber once asked: “Now how does it happen that at that time those countries which were most advanced economically, and within them the rising bourgeois middle classes, not only failed to resist this unexampled tyranny of Puritanism, but even developed a heroism in its defense?”3 Of course the religious forms of Puritan morality in the sense of methodically rationalized ethical conduct seem far removed from the New Left’s ideological attacks on the far right, but are they? Can we at all see the corollaries between the asceticism and fanaticism of the Puritans and the New Left?
Whereas the Left of the Sixties brought about the sexual revolution in art and mores, the contemporary current of the new Left of our moment has returned us to the Puritan ethic of which renounces the sexual promiscuity of the Sixties. The neo-rationalism and turn to morality within both philosophical circles of the collective left and other forms is shifting us into a highly regulated society of habit and custom with Orwell’s ‘groupthink’ as the central motif. As R.L. Stephens states it,
Creating a political climate based on shame is an impediment to justice. Shaming is about control, not justice. The shame-rage spiral is an unsustainable burden that ensures that we are unable to mount substantive challenges to oppression. Unacknowledged feelings of shame will destroy us as individuals and as movements. Honestly, I don’t have a strong idea for how we can overcome the shame dynamic in our political spaces.
When we refuse to admit the interchangeable character of ideas, blood flows . . . firm resolves draw the dagger; fiery eyes presage slaughter. No wavering mind, infected with Hamletism, was ever pernicious: the principle of evil lies in the will’s tension, in the incapacity for quietism, in the Promethean megalomania of a race that bursts with ideals, that explodes with its convictions, and that, in return for having forsaken doubt and sloth—vices nobler than all its virtues-—has taken the path to perdition, into history, that indecent alloy of banality and apocalypse. . . . Here certitudes abound: suppress them, best of all suppress their consequences, and you recover paradise. What is the Fall but the pursuit of a truth and the assurance you have found it, the passion for a dogma, domicile within a dogma? The result is fanaticism—fundamental defect which gives man the craving for effectiveness, for prophecy, for terror—a lyrical leprosy by which he contaminates souls, subdues them, crushes or exalts them. . . . Only the skeptics (or idlers or aesthetes) escape, because they propose nothing, because they—humanity’s true benefactors—undermine fanaticism’s purposes, analyze its frenzy. I feel safer with a Pyrrho than with a Saint Paul, for a jesting wisdom is gentler than an unbridled sanctity. In the fervent mind you always find the camouflaged beast of prey; no protection is adequate against the claws of a prophet. . . . Once he raises his voice, whether in the name of heaven, of the city, or some other excuse, away with you: satyr of your solitude, he will not forgive your living on the wrong side of his truths and his transports; he wants you to share his hysteria, his fullness, he wants to impose it on you, and thereby to disfigure you. A human being possessed by a belief and not eager to pass it on to others is a phenomenon alien to the earth, where our mania for salvation makes life unbreathable. Look around you: everywhere, specters preaching; each institution translates a mission; city halls have their absolute, even as the temples—officialdom, with its rules—a metaphysics designed for monkeys. . . Everyone trying to remedy everyone’s life: even beggars, even the incurable aspire to it: the sidewalks and hospitals of the world overflow with reformers. The longing to become a source of events affects each man like a mental disorder or a desired malediction. Society—an inferno of saviors! What Diogenes was looking for with his lantern was an indifferent man. . . .4 (Cioran, my italics)
Maybe we need an indifferent politics, as well. A politics that no longer seeks to erase, exclude, and shame the opposition into hyperconformity. Without oppositional thinking, without contrarian thought we are doomed to self-lacerating annihilation. But then again maybe it’s time for the liberal heritage of democracy to slice itself into finality… isn’t this what they are doing in our time. Are we not seeing the end of democracy and the rise of new forms of tyranny in mind, heart, and flesh? What the new Left condemns in the Right is its own mirrored truth, for the actual militant violence and oppression is the core faith of the new Left in its inquisitorial secularism. Is our a new age of Inquisition, a culture of Shame that seeks to efface the world of its oppositional thought, to deliver the heretics and schismatics to the flames of its Puritan faith?
- Kurtz, Ernest. Shame & Guilt. iUniverse, Inc. (July 24, 2007)
- Morrison, Andrew P.. Shame: The Underside of Narcissism. Routledge; 1 edition (May 22, 2014)
- Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Kindle Locations 38-40). Vook, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
- E.M. CIORAN. A Short History of Decay (Kindle Locations 107-124). Arcade Publishing. Kindle Edition.
More than in any other philosopher of the Western world, some have seen in Diogenes the epitome of a long list of praiseworthy personal and intellectual traits and endowments: an absolute commitment to honesty, a remarkable independence of judgment, an unwavering decision to live a simple and unencumbered life, a steadfast devotion to self-sufficiency, an unparalleled attachment to freedom of speech, a healthy contempt for human stupidity and obfuscation, an unusual degree of intellectual lucidity, and, above all, a tremendous courage to live in accord with his convictions.1
And, yet, there are those like the arch-Conservative Peter Sloterdijk, who have seein Diogenes as “a dog-man, a philosopher, a good-for-nothing, a primitive hippie, and the original bohemian”-stands in first place on a long list of cynics who have undermined even the possibility of idealism.14 With his defiant attitude of negativism, argues Sloterdijk, the man who “pissed against the wind” has become the nihilistic standard bearer of those who promote a style of life akin to a malaise of culture, in which neither values nor aspirations have any meaning, and in which egoism and materialism reign supreme. As the archetype of the cynical man, therefore, Diogenes can be viewed as the source from which all sorts of cultural and ideological ills have sprung since his time.
As Luis Navia would remark: What truth and validity can there be in these disparate assertions and assessments of those who have either canonized Diogenes as a philosophical saint and extolled his value as a great philosopher, or condemned him as a deranged rascal, a worthless man, and a psychopath, and dismissed him as a pseudophilosopher? We might argue that one’s reaction to Diogenes, as happens in many situations, depends on one’s own frame of mind. Schopenhauer once remarked that one does not choose to appreciate a certain philosopher or a certain philosophical attitude, for the reverse is true: that appreciation is determined by the kind of person one is. It might be possible that in order to understand and appreciate the value of Diogenes as a philosopher, one may have to be a Cynic oneself or at least have certain Cynic tendencies. How can someone whose psychological predispositions and whose upbringing incline him to blindly accept all social norms and to deify the Establishment and the status quo, and who, as in the case of patriotic enthusiasts and religious zealots, cannot find fulfillment in life except as part of a group, discover any value in a man like Diogenes, who, partly on account of his character and the circumstances of his life, and partly because of certain philosophical influences, felt compelled to wage a relentless war against the human world that surrounded him, and found his fulfillment only in the shelter of his self-proclaimed independence?
After a lifetime of waging my own war against human stupidity and the humanistic system of philosophy and literature I’ll admit that Diogenes has always been one of my progenitors, a guiding light in a sea of darkness and apathy. A man who stood up to his own time and spoke truth to power, a man who did not cater to rank and privilege, whose life was exemplary in that he lived it as he chose without the constraint of State or Society to enchain him in conformity with its dictates. He was ironic, satiric, parodic, grotesque, and full of comic mischief, a complete abandonment of superfluities; an unwavering commitment to break asunder the fetters that, in the form of conventions and rules, tie and incapacitate human beings; an unquenchable thirst for personal freedom; the courage to despise rulers and governments; an indifference toward political affairs; an unwillingness to serve as a pawn in the wars manufactured and managed by the oligarchies; a life unattached to a wife and children; and a disdain for the market and financial preoccupations that entrap practically everybody. These are the values and attitudes I’ve lived by for most of my adult life. In the end as many a quip will relate one is born a Cynic rather than made, it’s a disposition of character not some natural right of the human in itself. To be a cynic is to step outside the conventions of one’s era and challenge them all, to be a contrarian whose only goal is to unmask the ignorance of belief and self-deceit which most humans live by. To realize we are all born into ideological traps, systems of deceit and hyperconformity that would rule our flesh and minds, our habits and thoughts, to break free of these local, national, and worldly powers which would imprison us is the life’s work of the Cynic.
- Luis E. Navia. Diogenes The Cynic: The War Against The World (Kindle Locations 146-150). Kindle Edition.
Lichtenberg: ‘That a false hypothesis is sometimes preferable to an exact one is proven in the doctrine of human freedom. Man is, without a doubt, unfree. But it takes profound philosophical study for a man not to be led astray by such an insight. Barely one in a thousand has the necessary time and patience for such study, and of these hundreds, barely one has the necessary intelligence. This is why freedom is the most convenient conception and will, in the future, remain the most common, so much do appearances favour it. ‘
Baudrillard on Lichtenberg’s quote:
The exact hypothesis is that man is born unfree, that the world is born untrue, non-objective, non-rational. But this radical hypothesis is definitively beyond proof, unverifiable and, in a sense, unbearable.
Just as belief in freedom is merely the illusion of being the cause of one’s own acts, so the belief in objective reality is the illusion of finding an original cause for phenomena and hence of inserting the world into the order of truth and reason.
—Jean Baudrillard, The Intelligence of Evil
Underlying this rejection of free-will and the Order of Enlightenment Reason is a darker vision of Evil. As many will note Baudrillard’s statement is the central thesis of most Anti-Realist relativism pushed to the n’th degree. As some commentators suggest Baudrillard’s worldview was drifting toward a Manicheanism in his later works. In interviews he would admit as much. This Gnostic adaptation of the thrust of Platonic and Neo-Platonic thought updated for a postmodern turn that is itself now under erasure by the current realist turn in philosophy. Such a vision of evil suggests as did the Romantic poets that our universe is guided by a principle of Death and Entropy. As one studies the Romantics one realizes in the poets and music of that era was the figure of the solipsist on a Death March of which one can trace the culmination of this heritage in such later day composers as Gustave Mahler. Gnostics and Postmodernity alike would see in our immanent world of death no reprieve, no redemption: a world without God, whose only benefactor was the intelligence of evil: the Demogorgon. Intelligence and lucidity aligned with the monstrosity of the catastrophe creation that is our universal system of death and decay…
Immersion, immanence and immediacy – these are the characteristics of the Virtual.
—Jean Baudrillard, The Intelligence of Evil
Humankind, which once in Homer, was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, has now become one for itself. Its self alienation has reached the point where it can experience its own annihilation as a supreme aesthetic pleasure.
—Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Reproducibility
Glued to our screens we have replaced the real world, the world-in-itself with this copy, this virtual utopia. Registering the flickers across the global mindscape like fireflies in some idiots caged glass vessel we ponder each the others thoughts as if we might in some way break out of this solitary prison of the Self. We follow the hivemind into its strange and forbidden access points, this collective project of hypernormalization. Forgetting the world outside our homes we travel in these spaces of delusion click by click. “There is no gaze any longer, no scene, no imaginary, no illusion even, no longer any exteriority or spectacle: the operational fetish has absorbed all exteriority, reclaimed all interiority, absorbed time itself in the operation of real time.”1 Unable to perceive the truth we live in a post-truth age of nonsense. Our critical faculties obliterated by the glut of too much information. No longer able to decipher or interpret the signs of our corrosive culture we live as if time is nowhere and nowhen: an eternal present of presence without the Other. This effacement of the Other in the sameness of our own calculated observances leaves us in the stasis of banality.
Having supplanted the ‘natural world’ for the virtual we are denizens of a schizophrenic realism, a realism in which we endlessly produce the illusory world we dismissed as a tribal fetish. The taboo against the ‘natural world’ has led us into the trap of nightmare sequence: “…the simulacrum is not that which hides the truth, but that which hides the absence of truth”. (Baudrillard, 32) Having eliminated our responsibility for the natural world, we construct this monstrosity to hide our own abandonment, abdicating the dominion of society for this travesty we have accomplished a negative transcendence, an inversion that brings us all into the collective intellect of stupidity. Living in denial of this strange disequilibrium we have begun expulsing all those who refuse its dark interior delusions. “So that we do not know which will win out in the end, this irresistible technical undertaking or the violent reaction against it.” (Baudrillard, 33).
Our investment in this collective project of madness has consequences. We are creating a “world so real, hyperreal, operational and programmed that it no longer has any need to be true. Or rather it is true, absolutely true, in the sense that nothing any longer stands opposed to it.” (Baudrillard, 34) A static world of hypernormalised minds programmed to serve the powerful elites without a bit of opposition, or should we say all struggle and opposition have now become a part of the simulacrum: an endless negativity of debate, critique, and political mayhem that absolves nothing, does nothing, is nothing. “This perfect reality, to which we sacrifice all illusion the way that all hope is left behind on the threshold of Hell, is quite obviously a phantom reality.” (Baudrillard, 35)
Even now as artists, intellectuals, scientists, moralists, etc. ponder the annihilation of the human species at the hands of so many various catastrophes under the auspices of the term Anthropocene we are in denial, we live out our lives in this split universe of Virtual illusion at the expense of reality. We have constructed this virtual prison to escape the consequences of our own real world corruption as a species whose plunder of the natural world and the accumulation of its depleted resources has begun to haunt us with a dark futurity. Instead of the good old Hegelian dialectic of negativity we have the positive subversion of the Real: “The greater the positivity, the more violent is the – possibly silent – denial. We are all dissidents of reality today, clandestine dissidents most of the time.” (Baudrillard, 36)
The hopelessness and futility of our position should be clear, but we no longer have the critical acumen to perceive it as such. All we have “left is intelligence of evil, that is to say, intelligence not of a critical reality, but of a reality that has become unreal by dint of positivity, that has become speculative by dint of simulation. Because it is there to counter a void, the whole enterprise of simulation and information, this aggravation of the real and of knowledge of the real, merely gives rise to an ever greater uncertainty. Its very profusion and relentlessness simply spreads panic. And that uncertainty is irredeemable, as it is made up of all the possible solutions.” (Baudrillard, 37)
The confusion of the world with its double, the insidious integration of this security regime that has carefully elided reality and the principle of reality from its machinic collective has given us this integral world of illusory struggle and political malfeasance. “The invention of Reality, unknown to other cultures, is the work of modern western Reason, the turn to the Universal. The turn to an objective world, shorn of all hinterworlds.” (Baudrillard, 39) The age old battle between the harbingers of intellect and the Universal and those of the particular and nominalist singularity goes on in our time under different masks, different guises.
Objectivity and subjectivity were both illusory diagnosis of the world, false solutions to a dualistic nightmare. To believe we can escape the circle of representation is itself a representation. “One need only reflect that even if objects exist outside of us, we can know absolutely nothing of their objective reality. For things are given to us only through our representation. To believe that these representations and sensations are determined by external objects is a further representation.” (Baudrillard, 39) The world does not exist for us to know it, rather it does not exist for us at all. This is the only absolute: the world is not for-us. The world stands against us, and it is this fact, this facticity of things without us that disturbs us and forces us to into denial.
Lichtenberg was closer to the actuality: ‘It is impossible for a being to undergo the effect of some other without that effect being mutual. Every effect modifies the object that is its cause. There is no dissociation of the subject and the object – nor any original identity – there is only an inextricable reciprocity’. This reciprocity or principle of reversibility is such that alienation is no longer a valid concept, for there is the oscillating movement in-between becomings as events, a processual rather than the static opposition of some negation of negation; instead, a positivity unbounded. “The question of whether there is an objective reality does not even arise: the intelligence of the world is the intelligence of the world that thinks us.” (Baudrillard, 42)
- Baudrillard, Jean, The Intelligence of Evil. Berg Publishers; 1st edition (December 1, 2005)(Page 31).
Sartre is justified in claiming that Baudelaire wanted something which seems ruinous to us. At least he wanted it as one wants the impossible – that is to say, both genuinely as such, and deceptively, in the form of a chimera. Hence his tortured existence as a dandy, longing for work but bitterly engulfed in a useless idleness. But since, as Sartre admits, he was armed with ‘incomparable tension’, he drew all he could from an untenable position. A perfect expression of ecstasy and horror gave his poetry a fullness sustained to the very limits of a free sensibility, an exhaustive form of rarefaction and sterility which makes Sartre uneasy. The atmosphere of vice, rejection and hatred corresponds to the tension of the will which denied the constraint of Good in the same way as the athlete denies the weight of the dumbell. It is true that every effort is fruitless. The poems in which this expression is petrified and which reduce existence to being, have made of infinite vice, hatred and liberty those tranquil, docile and immutable forms with which we are acquainted. It is also true that poetry which survives is always the opposite of poetry for, having the perishable as its subject, it transforms it into something eternal. But it matters little if poetry, whose essential nature is to unite the object of the poem with the subject, unites it with the poet, disappointed, unsatisfied and humiliated by failure. The object, the world, irreducible and unsubordinated, incarnated in the hybrid creation of poetry and betrayed by the poem, is not betrayed by the poet’s unlivable life. Only the poet’s interminable agony can really reveal the authenticity of poetry, and Sartre, whatever he may say, helps us to see that Baudelaire’s end, preceding the glory which alone could have changed him to stone, corresponded to his will: Baudelaire wanted the impossible until the end.
- Bataille, Georges. Literature and Evil (Penguin Modern Classics) (Kindle Locations 431-445). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
Slavoj Zizek at Seventy birthday special: Politics, philosophy, and hardcore pornography.
Read Koheleth (Ecclesiastes) and the Book of Job: there is no external justice, only the absolute indifference of the cosmos (Spinoza’s God!). To expect justice is a human weakness. To expect surprise is godly. Living as we do in neither a just society nor a just world we learn to stand amid the chaos through our own effort of magnanimity. Failing that we suffer the weakness of believing others share and care as we do, not knowing that they too are alone with the alone. Circumscribed in an indifferent cosmos we expect an answer (Justice), and when one does not come forward we either accept it with equanimity or we huddle with others in the darkness like victims of a bad joke. Either way we are alone, there is no Big Other who will serve up truth and justice for you. Man made justice is the farce of political shenanigans, and those who seek or believe in it buy into the whole delusion full hog.
“The great wickedness of Liberalism, I saw, was that those who devise the ever new State Utopias, whether crooks or fools, set out to bankrupt and restrict not themselves, but others.”
—David Mamet, The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture (p. 9).
In our own time we see two visions of the future colliding in a civil war of culture across the planetary landscape. As Zeev Sternhell in the below extended quote will put it there are two visions of modernity that have for the past two centuries played out their vision of the future in culture and politics of the West. Whether you agree or disagree with his surmise it is worth pondering in the face of our current crumbling civilization. What do agree or disagree with in the statement below:
If the French Enlightenment, or rather the Franco-Kantian Enlightenment, and the English and Scottish Enlightenments produced the great intellectual revolution of rationalist modernity, the intellectual, cultural, and political movement associated with the revolt against the Enlightenment constituted not a counterrevolution but a different revolution. It was not a countermodernity but a different modernity that came into being and that revolted against rationalism, the autonomy of the individual, and all that unites people: their condition as rational beings with natural rights. That second modernity was based on all that differentiates and divides people—history, culture, language —a political culture that denied reason either the capacity or the right to mold people’s lives, saw religion as an essential foundation of society, and did not hesitate to call on the state to regulate social relationships or to intervene in the economy. According to its theorists, the splintering, fragmentation, and atomization of human existence arising from the destruction of the medieval world was the cause of the modern decadence. They deplored the disappearance of the spiritual harmony that was the very fabric of medieval life, and that was destroyed by the Renaissance according to some and by the Reformation according to others. They regretted the passing of the time in which the individual, guided by religion to his last breath, a laborer or artisan living solely for his trade, hedged in by society at every moment, was merely a cog in an infinitely complex machine of whose destiny he was ignorant. Bending over the soil and asking no questions, he fulfilled his function in the march of civilization. On the day when, from being simply a part in a sophisticated mechanism, man became an individual, the modern sickness was born. From Burke to Friedrich Meinecke, the aim remained the restoration of the lost unity. Thus, the outlook of the individual was confined within the straitjacket of the community to which he belonged. The idea of the primacy of tradition, custom, and membership of a cultural, historical, and linguistic community was first put forward by Vico. Man, said Vico in criticism of the theoreticians of natural rights—Hobbes, Locke, Hugo Grotius, and Samuel Pufendorf— did not create society all of a piece; he is what society made him, his values are social values and are therefore relative. The relativity of values is a fundamental aspect of the critique of the Enlightenment, and the damage it has caused is tremendous. It was this other modernity that brought about the twentieth century European catastrophe.1
One can see this second version extended in the work of existentialists, phenomenologists, and after Fascism in the cultural Marxists from Adorno, Foucault, Derrida, the later Lyotard, aspects of Deleuze/Guattari, Jameson, and many others of the outmoded label of postmodern or post-structuralist theoretic. The wholesale attack on the whole traditions of Western Civilization and its long dominion of culture and geography, along with the erosion of the ethical and religious ideologies of Christendom and its secular oppositional forces seem to be heading toward collapse or transformation in our time. Two visions of time seem to underpin aspects of this as well: the one a linear movement toward apocalypse or the End of History, an eschatological worldview with a vision of end games and messiahs; the other a dynamic and spiral time of emergence and spontaneous order, of chaos and the open ended repetitions of renaissance and renewal rather than collapse and static ends of History. This movement between a static and dynamic view of Time, the one based on the labyrinth and death, the other on the spiral movement of galactic negentropy of order out of chaos, light out of darkness and openly rebellious view of cosmic revolt against the staid political systems of entrapment and enslavement.
This clash between worldviews in our time should be framed in a larger vision than most of trivial struggles of local politics allows for. The old clash between Left and Right must be ousted for a new vision of politics in our time. The outworn clichés of both Left and Right have become nodes of stupidity and irony, leading us in circles of hate and dispute that have no resolution. We need something else… something new. Ours is a time of chaotic growth when the emergence of something new and strange is arising in our midst. The age old war between collective vs. individual political and sociocultural systems have become passé leading us down the old paths of prejudice and dissolution. We must seek out the new, allow the new to come into existence. Maybe what we are seeing is the battle between the orthodox view of time and reality being slowly exploded by what some have termed The Great Heterodoxy. I will have more to say about that in the future…
- Zeev Sternhell The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition. Yale University Press (December 22, 2009) (Page 8).
They have the look of demons who forgot they are not in hell anymore, but have invented a tattooed nightmare to house the flesh of their demented anxiety.
Masked paranoia is the fake equivalent of punked out has beens who belong to an age of revolt that ended in suicide alley.
Why these after images remain is beyond knowing, maybe they were stuck in some old movie without outlet, drifters of insomnia who have for all their daimonic pretentions become sponsors of trivial dreams for a worn out universe.
They apprehend a great divide in time; a time before, and a time after: a time that changes everything and nothing.
It’s this inner sense that they exist in a bubble of time outside the Real, a world of living death in which the nightmare scenarios of their belated humanity discovers itself only through the dark contours of a cerebral infection.
They are knowers of an eclipsed universe, the remnants and refugees from a realm of bright lights that have found themselves in a world of death and war, one in which they participate as specters of lividity.
They move from slippage to slippage in an abyss of dismemberment not knowing that the imponderable knot of unbinding they unloosed birthed a demonic world full of forgotten thoughts.
Lost among an infested and ruinous wasteland of darkness without bounds they wander through each others dreams like fragments of a torn novel whose pages were burned out long ago.
It’s as if they experienced the trauma of the Big Bang as the ripping of a black veil where the dark fires of Hiroshima and Nagasaki enter their flesh and the Titanomachia of ancient battles emerge from their blood born fears.
From that primordial time of renewal they were expulsed and have since entered the stasis of a world where killing for sport and nefarious pleasure becomes the vital principle of a broken universe of suicidal porn.
Hackers of unknowing they envision a realm of pain where spirit is pitched to a high crag and the merciless bolts of strange gods embark on phantasmal seas of nightmare…
Despite all sophisticated or resentful denials, the reading of imaginative literature remains a quest to overcome the isolation of the individual consciousness.
—Harold Bloom, On Modern Horror
When I began reading in my youth I understood intuitively what later I would begin to know in earnest: we all need to know that someone, somewhere, in life or thought shares in our secret beliefs. For the most part we feel our way into thought in the beginning, we seek others thoughts attentively for agreement or disagreement with our hunger for that indefinable rapport. Some find their answers in religion or philosophy, they find certain thoughts or ideas that lead either to a life of ritual and normalized devotion or rigor that becomes for them a safety net against the unknown. When they find such a secure haven against the threats of emotion or reason then they stop thinking for themselves and let the system of philosophy or religion take over so that they no longer have to go it alone. Others who cannot accept such systems of belief either in religion or philosophy continue in their search for something else, for a knowledge which no human has ever penned nor some philosophical tract or religious scriptures put into words or actions. Unsatisfied with the known worlds of philosophy or religion these seekers after forbidden knowledge continue, alone, and in isolation; and, yet, here and there they see glimmers of that dark light jut out of the fragmentary pages of some book of madman’s eye, a hint of terrible knowledge that offers a doorway into the unknown. The closer one gets to that threshold of unknowing the more one knows that deep and dreadful sense of horror and fear that the truth one is about to uncover might just be too much, that it might lead one to death or madness; and, yet, we persist, we continue in our task to discover in outward form the dark hinterlands of our own inner experience. Why? Why do we love to court disaster more than safety and security? Why do some of us push ourselves to the limits of the human? Why enter into those corrupted and ruinous worlds of unknowing that can only lead us into insanity of suicide?
When we come upon certain writers whose thought seem to verify the secret beliefs about existence we have always believed but never had words or thoughts for then we feel a desperate need to read and reread everything of that author’s works and biography to know what it is that he/she has so carefully discovered to the point of obsession. When we come upon such authors we feel a certain shock, a sudden realization that this other has said what I have ‘felt’ for so long but never had an inkling how to put visualize or think it. This awakening takes us out of ourselves, takes us out of our isolated unknowing and helps us realize that we are not alone, that, yes, there is at least one other person who has shared the dark contours of our hopes, dreams, and fears.
I’ve read vast troves of work in literature, philosophy, science(s)and history, yet it is the imaginative worlds of crime and horror fiction that have awakened in me a sense of the dark and terrible truths lying in the abyss beneath the everyday surfaces of our lives. It is from these authors that I discovered the things a yearn for and the things I fear both in others and in myself, so that it is from them that I discovered that primordial sense of just how slipper the passage is from pleasure to pain. Anxiety in the face of the unknown overwhelms us all to the point that we need certain fictions to mask the intolerable sense that reality is not as it seems. Many as suggested in the beginning of my essay find in philosophy or religion acceptable fictions to keep the ruinous truth of this darker world at bay. They hide in the comfortable zones of reason or the irrational realms of ritual and liturgy to assuage the sadomasochistic pleasure/pain at the heart of the Real.
“To see others suffer does one good, to make others suffer even more: this is a hard saying but an ancient, mighty, human, all-too-human principle [….] Without cruelty there is no festival.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals / Ecce Homo
H.P. Lovecraft in his essay on Supernatural Horror offered a succinct statement on this dark secret at the heart of fear:
Because we remember pain and the menace of death more vividly than pleasure, and because our feelings toward the beneficent aspects of the unknown have from the first been captured and formalized by conventional religious rituals, it has fallen to the lot of the darker and more maleficent side of cosmic mystery to figure chiefly in our popular supernatural folklore. This tendency, too, is naturally enhanced by the fact that uncertainty and danger are always closely allied; thus making any kind of an unknown world a world of peril and evil possibilities.1
In that long trek of our early hominid ancestors out of the African jungles and savannahs to the far corners of time and space, unto to the final worlds of our present global civilization we were shaped by the forces of mystery and fear. Our need to combat that fear and the mysteries of the universe and unknowing surrounding us on all sides led us to develop strange tales of evil and the monstrous to circumscribe the human realms of safety from the dark worlds just outside us. The wastes, deserts, jungles, ocean and mountains of the inhabitable extremes were populated by us with demons and fairies and forces of darkness and light. Out of these hundreds of thousands of years of evolution we evolved patterns that would shape our humanity, tales to protect us from the terrors just beyond the campfire and safety of the hearth. In our own cynical age we skip by this long history as if it were contemptible, as if we were all moderns and secular atheists who have no need for the childish superstitions and folkways of our ancestral dreamtime. Then why do we crave the darkness, why to we fill our cinemas with slasher and cosmic horror and devastation? Why to we love superhero comics brought to life on the screen, fill our eyes with Tolkien’s hobbits, and feel the desperate need to walk with the Walking Dead on television? Why so many films of crime and sex where humans perpetrate the bloodiest and most nasty crimes upon each other: the madness, obsessions, and the deranged mentation’s of the most corrupt and evil creatures to mask the human. Why are we so fascinated with awe and fear?
Children will always be afraid of the dark, and men with minds sensitive to hereditary impulse will always tremble at the thought of the hidden and fathomless worlds of strange life which may pulsate in the gulfs beyond the stars, or press hideously upon our own globe in unholy dimensions which only the dead and the moonstruck can glimpse.
—H. P. Lovecraft
Watching the History or Travel Channels of late I’ve been fascinated by the strange superstitions surrounding America’s love affair with alien history and ghosts. There is a grand narrative or conspiracy of fear presented weekly on these channels that bring forward men and women who seem to be experiencing events beyond the normal worlds we all inhabit. Alien visitation and adduction, government cover-ups, creatures, monsters, disappearances, ghost hunters, mediums, messages from the dead, and malevolent beings from the hinterlands of some multidimensional realm just beyond our senses. All these programs seem to sell, repeating the same stories over and over to the point that they replace reality with these fantastic worlds. Suddenly the reality of modernity and the Enlightenment vanish into the cosmic underground replaced by these paranormal worlds of monstrous imagination. It’s as if the mundane truth of our work-a-day world of political turmoil and anguish were being channeled off into the nightmares of the outer dark. What dawned on me after questioning other members of my family and friends as to why they like to watch these festivals of horror and alien imaginings. People seem to watch and read about such things to escape their own fears of the unknown. If they can believe that others are experiencing anguish and anxiety in their lives being shaped by hideous forces outside their control it brings them comfort to know they are not alone. Fear of the unknown become familiar if it is garbed in the strange and alien fictions of shared illusion. Aliens and ghosts are our secular world’s answer to religious doubt and fear of the dark throngs of our ancestral nightmares. We may have left the jungles of the African veldt long ago but the hauntings of that primal world still exist in our reptilian brain and will not be easily dismissed. We are haunted by the secret worlds of our ancestral anxieties and need our fiction to keep those monstrous worlds at bay. Even in an age of science, science has yet to dissuade us of our primal terrors.
Humans cannot live in a vacuum of doubt and anguish even in a secular age, they need fictions and narratives that will help them put the demons in their lives to rest, to push back the darkness and the unknown fears surrounding them in emotional anguish. Humans need security blankets and will if it is presented in a logical and acceptable, even reasonable manner believe in the most irrational ideas, notions, and unreason. We need our illusions as long as they are shared by others, even the fake one’s that hide from us the truth of the real historical forces that are determining our lives not as part of some global conspiracy but as part of the elite ministrations of political ideologists and their rich and conspiratorial controllers. The true conspiracists are those who promote it rather than its victims. Our hollow lords in high places build our nightmares out of the mass mythologies of our secular age to keep our fears occupied by false worlds rather than the economic and political nightmares that are all too real and discomforting. We are all slaves to our own fears and imaginations, and would rather believe in the fictional nightmares of imaginal fabrications than in the literal darkness of orchestrated political and social enslavement.
Supernatural or paranormal tales and fictions assuage that pain and anxiety in a form that puts a distance between it and an all too real mundane world of work and anxiety; and it’s this distanciation, this distancing from the Real that motivates us and keeps us chained to the myths of ancestral fear and terror. We need our illusions because the real world is too close to us, too much with us now and always. To imagine, to image forth and put a mask or face on the dark contours of our fears and terrors, to allow the demons of the mind and heart to roam in objective and fantastic narratives is easier for us to control than the real world of our lives. The illusive realms of hauntings, the unseen, and the unknown are much easier to control through imaginative need than the real world of political and social chaos, therefore we fill our lives with literary and filmic worlds of monsters, aliens, and criminals to keep the truth of our enslaved lives hidden and invisible. We believe that if we can make the darkness visible in art, literature, or film we need not deal with our own personal darkness. So we build our worlds of nightmare to protect us from the uncertainty of our actual lives. If we can unmask the demon beyond the threshold we believe we can control it rather than ‘it’ us; and, yet this mistaken belief is the root of all war and mayhem, for we are the perpetrators of a universal horror show that is all too real and manifest as the permanent form of fear and terror in our lives.
- Lovecraft, H. P.. The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature: Revised and Enlarged (Kindle Locations 356-360). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.
Ramsey Campbell in the preface to S.T. Joshi’s study of his work (Ramsey Campbell and Modern Horror Fiction) relates a story of how Fright and Imagination left their mark on his life and writing:
“…it was another image that set me on the course I was to make my career: the cover of an issue of Weird Tales. It was the November 1952 issue. I saw it in a sunlit window of a newsagent’s in Seabank Road in Southport, a train ride up the coast from Liverpool, and I must have been seven years old. I had never wanted to own anything so much. I couldn’t imagine what dread pleasures might lurk behind such a cover, but owning the picture would have been enough—a painting of a terrified bird or birdlike creature cowering beneath a luminous green sky while two monstrosities with immense human skulls for heads and very little in the way of bodies advanced towards it across a black desert. I pleaded with my mother—the price was only a shilling— but was judged far too young. It took me a decade to locate a copy of the issue, only to find that the cover depicted a vulture perched on a rib-cage near two half-buried skulls while two greenish skeletons, possibly ambulatory, hovered in the background. It seems clear that on that summer day in 1953 my imagination was dissatisfied with the image and so dreamed something stranger into existence, an approach it has taken to reality ever since.”1 (p. 13-14)
This notion of “imagination” being dissatisfied with certain images in life or thought and displacing them with a stranger reality hits the mark with most weird tales. The best weird tales seem to displace our normalized worlds of life and literature replacing them with that indefinable resonance of the power of Mind over the universe of death and horror that defines the genre as a whole. A painter I have always admired, Patrick Woodruff in one of his essay (have to find it!) once suggested that he painted with such ferocity the nightmares of his mind to objectify and imagine the demons that invisibly impinged upon his life.
Art is a form of demonology for Woodruff, a way of displacing the overpowering horror of existence by objectifying and thereby dissolving the emotional power of the unknown with an image of imagination. I have always seen the best cosmic horror in this way as putting a stamp on the demons of our collective nightmares, of tapping into the emotive force of the unknown dimensions surrounding us that our brain for the most part filters out due to our ancient natural and selective processes. The invisible realms of reality and the Real are still there but our brain does not allow us direct access so that the objects of our mind give us an indirect and imaginative access to them by way of fright, fear, and horror: putting a mask on our demon world image thereby dissolving its power over our life and minds.
- Joshi, S.T. Ramsey Campbell and Modern Horror Fiction (Liverpool Science Fiction Texts and Studies, 23) . Liverpool University Press; 1 edition (January 7, 2001)
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein:
“When younger…I felt as if I were destined for some great enterprise.…I could not rank myself with the herd of common projectors. But this feeling, which supported me in the commencement of my career, now serves only to plunge me lower in the dust. All my speculations and hopes are as nothing; and, like the archangel who aspired to omnipotence, I am chained in an eternal hell.…From my infancy I was imbued with high hopes and a lofty ambition; but how am I sunk! Oh! my friend, if you had known me as I once was, you would not recognize me in this state of degradation. Despondency rarely visited my heart; a high destiny seemed to bear me on, until I fell, never, never again to rise. (152)”
Toward the end of the novel Dr. Frankenstein reminisces with Walton about his early youth. The clear influence of those primal passages from Paradise Lost of John Milton in which Satan delivers his own soliloquy is merged in the above. One could say that Shelley’s novel is the embodiment of that epic power of torment and aristocratic intelligence that would rather be defiant against all authority and tyrannical despotism, ruling in hell rather than being an eternal slave in heaven. As I grow older I feel this sympathy with those failures in knowing that the aspirations we so boldly faced in youth have resulted not in the loft ambitions of the mind but rather become the ruin of Old Age and Time: the despotic rule of natural decay and loss. The only thing that remains is the absolute defiance and intelligence that seeks to emerge against the light…
Mary Shelley’s husband the poet Percy Shelley wrote effusively in his Defence of Poetry (1821) that
Nothing can exceed the energy and magnificence of the character of Satan as expressed in Paradise Lost. It is a mistake to suppose that he could ever have been intended for the popular personification of evil.…Milton’s Devil as a moral being is as far superior to his God as one who perseveres in some purpose which he has conceived to be excellent in spite of adversity and torture, is to one who in the cold security of undoubted triumph inflicts the most horrible revenge upon his enemy, not from any mistaken notion of inducing him to repent of a perseverance in enmity, but with the alleged design of exasperating him to deserve new torments.
The Romantics and the Gnostics as Harold Bloom has strived to remind us through as many works agreed in this defiance of the Old Testament God, Yahweh. Yahweh was for both the Tyrant king, the irascible and jealous, raging bling god of the Old Testament who played havoc across the course of time with his progeny, testing them, judging them, killing and sacrificing them to his whims. The Old testament is a bloody book full of war and hate, and its God is truly the ‘darkness visible’ of a being who torments his own creation.
As J.C. Christopher The Satanic Scholar explicates: Shelley voiced his ambivalent view of Milton’s Satan quite clearly in the Preface to his Prometheus Unbound (1820). “The only imaginary being resembling in any degree Prometheus, is Satan,” Shelley contends, yet he proceeds to explain that Prometheus is “a more poetical character than Satan” because the deity-defiant, humanitarian Titan shares the virtues of “courage and majesty and firm and patient opposition to omnipotent force” without the vices of “ambition, envy, revenge, and a desire for personal aggrandisement, which in the Hero of Paradise Lost, interfere with the interest.” As far as Shelley was concerned, while “Prometheus is, as it were, the type of the highest perfection of moral and intellectual nature, impelled by the purest and the truest motives to the best and noblest ends,” the same simply cannot be said for the character of Milton’s Satan, who instead “engenders in the mind a pernicious casuistry which leads us to weigh his faults with his wrongs and to excuse the former because the latter exceed all measure.” This rather bold position of Shelley’s—that Satan’s shortcomings are essentially excusable because they are utterly outweighed by the wrongdoing perpetrated against him—was previously asserted far less vaguely in one of Shelley’s earlier, unpublished works: his Essay on the Devil and Devils (ca. 1819–20). As a matter of fact, the above quotation from A Defence of Poetry—that Milton’s Satan is unsurpassable in “energy and magnificence”—was a passage Shelley took nearly verbatim from his Essay on the Devil, but what Shelley prudently chose not to copy from his Essay over to his Defence was his irreverently detailed description of how and why that which is genuinely malignant in Milton’s otherwise virtuous Devil—his quest for the destruction of Man—may be blamed upon Milton’s God, who, as in Satan’s “baleful eyes” (I.56), emerges as the far more demonic figure of the story.1
I’ve been rereading Milton’s great poem Paradise Lost as well as Mary Shelley’s work of late, both have infiltrated and informed my mind for decades. Milton’s was for me a work against the political tyranny of his time, a Cromwellian defender Milton chose the path of freedom from despotic rule and after the defeat of Cromwell suffered for his allegiance. It would be after this political defeat that he’d go on to write his famed poem and take up the devil’s cause of freedom against the English power of Divine Kingship. Mary Shelley in the wake of such thought coming as she did from her parents William Godwin the Anarchist, and her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, the arch feminist. Married to the poet who would shape her sense of vision she wrote the first prose epic that would in its Janus faced vision merge the past visions of gnostic battle with the future visions of earthly ruin and sacrifice. Yet, it would be the defiant power of that Satanic pride that would carry her into our own time as the fierce advocate of justice against the dictates of all ruinous power and tyranny.
- Christopher J. C., The Satanic Scholar, The Miltonic in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, on the Novel’s Bicentenary (January, 1, 2018) – (read)
In William Gibson’s Neuromancer we see an agon between the various forces that would resist and stop the emergence of a vastly superior Artificial Intelligence vs. those who would enter into a new set of commitments to liberate it from its human security regimes. In the novel this new Intelligence is named Wintermute, an Artificial Intelligence (AI). When the human protagonist, Chase, has to make the precipitous decision to free Wintermute at the end of the novel he conceives it as a leap into the new:
`Give us the fucking code,’ he said. `If you don’t, what’ll change? What’ll ever fucking change for you? You’ll wind up like the old man. You’ll tear it all down and start building again! You’ll build the walls back, tighter and tighter… I got no idea at all what’ll happen if Wintermute wins, but it’ll change something!’ He was shaking, his teeth chattering.1
Commenting on this in his Doctoral Thesis, Dr. Steve Overy tells us that this decision goes to the heart of Nick Land’s anti-philosophy:
In this era of accelerating technological change philosophy creates a false dichotomy between controlled change and uncontrolled change, whereas, for Land, the real dichotomy is between resisting change and accepting it. The impersonal forces of the outside irrupting at the moment: cryptocurrency, AI and singularity, demographic collapse, the death of the Westphalian state system, crises of capitalism, all are beyond the ability of humanity to steer. What remains is a binary choice to resist, or to progress. Resistance is always undertaken by the human subject in defence of what it knows, and is therefore fundamentally conservative, hence Land’s critique of Ray Brassier’s retreat into ‘conceptual issues’ as leading to philosophical conservatism.2
What’s interesting in this struggle between Land and his former students and associates of the CCRU days is the reversal in the notions of ‘conservatism’. For Land it is the Left or Progressive and academic worldview of the philosophical community of consensus reality that is stifling the emergence of AI and Superintelligence through a false dichotomy. The Left attacks Land for his siding with accelerating capitalism and consistently does this through conceptual attacks on Land’s politics rather than on the merit of his pragmatic stance outside the academy as an anti-philosopher. Land sees all theoretical and conceptual culture as bound to the Kantian treadmill of correlationism in which thought is always already conservative and bound to the old humanistic discursive loops and repetitions by its very insider consensus. Nothing new can emerge from such theory or theoretical culture in the parlance of Landian ‘libidinal materialism’.
For Land the whole Kantian tradition has bound itself within a metaphysical black box from which it cannot by conceptuality ever hope to extract or free itself. Only by opening itself to the pragmatic Outside of primary process and the productive forces that have shaped AI, modernity and Capitalism can it begin to break free of its chains to the humanistic worldview. Instead we must end the chatter of theory and critique which always lead to regressions and circularities – ‘aren’t you using ideas to critique ideas’ – that “short-circuit metaphysical attempts to access base-material” (Overy, p. 302). As Overy suggests one way forward is to align Land’s attempt at measuring desiring-production with an anti-metaphysical and mathematically precise determination of the rules that condition these underlying automatic productions of a materialist post-psychoanalytical method. (Overy, p. 303)
In summation Overy comments,
Ultimately, Land’s thought does not ask to be evaluated according to the mores of modern academic philosophy, but for its predictive ability and its correspondence to reality. (p. 304).
Land left the loop of academic philosophy long ago for an anti-philosophical and pragmatic acceptance of the Outsider view and observer of our cultural malaise. His outsider stance and political proclivities have aligned him as the enemy of the Left and it’s minions. Speaking of academic philosophy in our time Land reminds us that they are “characterized by their moral fervour, parochialism, earnestness, phenomenological disposition, and sympathy for folk superstition,” while those of the outer reaches, the anti-philosophers and followers of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, and their ilk are known by their “fatalism, atheism, strangely reptilian exuberance, and extreme sensitivity for what is icy, savage, and alien to mankind.” 3
- Gibson, William. Neuromancer (United Kingdom: Grafton, 1986) p.307
- Overy, Steve. The genealogy of Nick Land’s anti-anthropocentric philosophy: a psychoanalytic conception of machinic desire. https://theses.ncl.ac.uk/dspace/bitstream/10443/3350/1/Overy%2c%20S.%202016.pdf (Page 298). Bio: https://www.ncl.ac.uk/philosophy/staff/profile/stephenovery1.html#research
- Land, N. The Thirst for Annihilation (London and New York: Routledge, 1992) pp. 97-98(Page 301).
Authoritarianism arises due to the weakness of leaders to decide, decide anything at all. Ours is such a world in which authority has lost all authority, therefore the strong man, the dictator arises not due to capacity but due to the incapacity of the democratic process to actually do its work. The inanity of this political sham between Left and Right has produced the very incapacity to create a viable world, therefore false authoritarianism arises out of this civil war between extremes. The Left has created a Grand Narrative mythology in its story of Neoliberalism to escape its own ineptitude so that it can cop out from actually doing anything. Instead it will continue to iterate and reiterate in convulsive critical suspicion the repetitions of repetitions till the world sinks away into oblivion. The Left has no actual ability to do anything but rage in its own suspicion.