The Medusa’s Mask: The Literature of Fascination

Medusamorphosis relates to the mythical figure of the Gorgon Medusa, a key figure of fascination, whose looks were thought to turn living beings into stone.

—Sibylle Baumbach, Literature and Fascination

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Medusa incorporates the ambivalent forces of attraction and repulsion that are at the heart of the dangerously seductive and petrifying lure referred to as ‘fascination’. Furthermore, the threat and thrill evoked by this figure support the conceptualization of fascination and its development insofar as different representations of the Gorgon across historical eras, cultural contexts and across different media point to dominating trends underlying the dread of, or desire for ‘fascination’.1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Anareta – The Destroyer

In ancient times our planet was already manifest as a killing machine, a realm of absolute death and destruction.

One of the most common astrological terms used in medieval Astrology is the term Anareta planet. It derives from the Greek and translates to “destroyer”, standing for any planet that has deeply maleficent effects on one’s life. In some interpretations, anareta is a harbinger or doom and the destroyer of life itself, and in others it kills form and makes changes in our lives, by force or consent, this doesn’t really matter.

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

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

Later dualists of the Gnostic variety would appropriate this astrological sign as an indicator of the ontological horror of earth itself and all life on it as an endless killing zone: an infernal paradise of death and destruction. According to Gnostic theology, the entire manifest cosmos was created by a hostile (or at best, ignorant) force of darkness and is thus a hideous aberration. This force of darkness usually takes the form of a creator-God known as the demiurge (William Blake’s ‘Nobodaddy’), identified as Yahweh of the Old Testament. The demiurge rules over all that he has created, sometimes with the assistance of evil angels known as archons, while the real or alien God remains wholly transcendent and removed from the created world.

Ernest Becker in his last work Escape from Evil relates this understanding, eloquently:

At its most elemental level the human organism, like crawling life, has a mouth, digestive tract, and anus, a skin to keep it intact, and appendages with which to acquire food. Existence, for all organismic life, is a constant struggle to feed-a struggle to incorporate whatever other organisms they can fit into their mouths and press down their gullets without choking. Seen in these stark terms, life on this planet is a gory spectacle, a science-fiction nightmare in which digestive tracts fitted with teeth at one end are tearing away at whatever flesh they can reach, and at the other end are piling up the fuming waste excrement as they move along in search of more flesh. I think this is why the epoch of the dinosaurs exerts such a strange fascination on us: it is an epic food orgy with king-size actors who convey unmistakably what organisms are dedicated to. Sensitive souls have reacted with shock to the elemental drama of life on this planet, and one of the reasons that Darwin so shocked his time-and still bothers ours-is that he showed this bonecrushing, blood-drinking drama in all its elementality and necessity: Life cannot go on without the mutual devouring of organisms. If at the end of each person’s life he were to be presented with the living spectacle of all that he had organismically incorporated in order to stay alive, he might well feel horrified by the living energy he had ingested. The horizon of a gourmet, or even the average person, would be taken up with hundreds of chickens, flocks of lambs and sheep, a small herd of steers, sties full of pigs, and rivers of fish. The din alone would be deafening. To paraphrase Elias Canetti, each organism raises its head over a field of corpses, smiles into the sun, and declares life good.2


  1. Cormac Mccarthy. Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West
  2.  Becker, Ernst. Escape from Evil. Simon & Schuster (1976)

In Search of Infernal Time: An Accelerationist’s Demonology

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

—E.M. Cioran, The Temptation to Exist

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

—Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger

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

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

—Thomas Ligotti, The Nightmare Factory

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

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

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

Hyperstitional Ingress

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

—Corpus Hermeticum, On the Egregores

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Deleuze/Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

BodySnatchers

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

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

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

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

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

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

and hundreds of others…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

Yes, I’m a little pessimistic…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bones of Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©Steven Craig Hickman

The Human Extinction Plan: Do Nothing, Turn a Blind Eye

The Sixth Extinction seems to be moving now in exponential catalytic mode as if the earth were speaking to us in an indifferent tongue telling us through natural signs that we are next… our problems is that only a few intelligent creatures are reading the signs, the vast majority are blinded by leaders and corporate malfeasance all the way to the top. Sadly when people finally see their cities sink, the air unbreathable, the crops fail, the rain stop, the ocean conveyor nil, the last cloud vanish in the bread belt, and the great storms unending across the impervious seas… those leaders and corporations will have built fortified cities and bunkers against the throngs who will finally be left in a world of absolute hell.

One Harvard professor reports that we have less than five years to turn things around. He tells us that people have the misapprehension that we can recover from this state just by reducing carbon emissions, Anderson said in an appearance at the University of Chicago. Recovery is all but impossible, he argued, without a World War II-style transformation of industry—an acceleration of the effort to halt carbon pollution and remove it from the atmosphere, and a new effort to reflect sunlight away from the earth’s poles.

“This has do be done within the next five years,” he states, emphatically.

In a recent article on NatureThe sudden collapse of thawing soils in the Arctic might double the warming from greenhouse gases released from tundra, warn Merritt R. Turetsky and colleagues. As the temperature of the ground rises above freezing, microorganisms break down organic matter in the soil. Greenhouse gases — including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — are released into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming. Current models of greenhouse-gas release and climate assume that permafrost thaws gradually from the surface downwards. Deeper layers of organic matter are exposed over decades or even centuries, and some models are beginning to track these slow changes. But models are ignoring an even more troubling problem. Frozen soil doesn’t just lock up carbon — it physically holds the landscape together. Across the Arctic and Boreal regions, permafrost is collapsing suddenly as pockets of ice within it melt. Instead of a few centimetres of soil thawing each year, several metres of soil can become destabilized within days or weeks. The land can sink and be inundated by swelling lakes and wetlands.”

Geowatch reports that various blocking patterns in Greenland and the Artic due to mountains is helping this along as well: As said, as the Arctic warms up more rapidly than the rest of Earth, the speed at which jet streams circumnavigate the Northern Hemisphere will weaken, making the jets meander more and creating patterns that can trap heat (or cold) for a number of days over a given area. Due to the height of its mountains, Greenland is particularly prone to be increasingly hit by heatwaves resulting from such blocking patterns. Warming changes the texture of snow and ice, making it more slushy and darker, which also makes that it absorbs more of the sunlight’s heat, further accelerating melting.

Economist Joseph Stieglitz reports that by the end of this century, some sectors of the US economy, including agriculture and energy, could lose hundreds of billions of dollars a year because of climate change, according to the latest report issued by the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Yet, Stieglitz, always the optimist, thinks we can legislate an end to it all with the Green New Deal. Being the pessimist I am the very notion that embarking on such a scheme without it being done in every nation around the planet seems utopian and less than adequate. It’s as if such economists were pipe dreamers full of hot air taking us for fools. All such a scheme would do in the short run would be to enforce more pressure on workers and expose them to even greater misery than they already are. The dreamer he is believes we can just tax corporations that inflict damage on our environment, and that this would encourage corporations to work hard to prevent it. Lies all the up and down, the U.S. government is supported by those corporations and isn’t about to begin biting the hand that feeds them and puts them in power. Wake up Stieglitz, what kind of idealist trash are you spouting? Whose paying your paychecks to write such horseshit as if the American public were that gullible.

Here’s a representative Progressive view on things from George Monbiot:

Progressive change requires mass mobilisation. But, by identifying and challenging power, by discovering its failings and proposing alternatives, by showing the world as it is rather than as the apparatus of justification would wish people to see it, we can, I believe, play a helpful part in this mobilisation, alongside politicians, protesters, social entrepreneurs, pressure groups and a host of other agents of change.1

Problem with such a project is that it’s too little, too late. Progressives like many utopianistic leftists believe people, the working people, will step up to the plate, join in and get ‘mobilized’, listen to their pundits and agitators, produce a viable protest movement etc. Hogwash! What has protest done for us of late? Look around you the world is just what it is, and we are neither victims nor perpetrators, rather we’re all fools in a ship of fools wandering blindly through our lives thinking that someone else will come along and fix things, that someone else will save us from ourselves, that a redeemer will appear out of the religious nowhere and bring us the good optimistic news of deliverance. Sorry to be the one to tell you: there is no good news ahead, it’s all bad weather and no matter what the fuck we do now it’s not going to make a fucking bit of difference.

No need to state what the pundits on the Right have to say, they don’t even believe in climate change, but instead make jokes and parodies, satiric jibes and the endless parade of black humor that they’ve been tuning up in recent years. Most global warming skeptics  believe the models used to predict Earth’s future under global warming are unreliable. They feel that while the sun, clouds, gases, glaciers and oceans are responsible for weather, so, too, are other factors, including some we don’t currently understand. According to global warming skeptics, computer models are merely a guess at what will happen on Earth in the future — something climatologists don’t deny — and an arguably poor guess at that. After all, if we can’t accurately predict the weather a week from now, how can we predict the global climate in 100 years?

Others don’t believe we’re experiencing a global warming trend at all. The annual temperature between 1998 and 2007 actually decreased, despite the 4 percent increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere during that same period. They also point out that, while the Northern Hemisphere has warmed, the Southern Hemisphere has actually cooled. “Global warming was supposed to actually be global, not hemispheric,” says skeptic — and Executive Director of the Natural Resources Stewardship Project.

So go on keep reading all these change artists and con men of the utopian set, the elite pundits with all the answers. Hey, it’s your life you can do with it what you like, right? No. If you think you’re really in charge of your life, that you have the freedom to do what and when you like, then either you’re already and Oligarch, plutocrat, rich mother-fucker, or you’re like me a poor bastard living off the pipe-dreams of yesteryear thinking people really give a shit. Keep on believing fools… am I cynical? am I pessimistic? You bet I am! I don’t believe the lies anymore, its been a scam of quite a while now and the show is almost over. Nothing I do or say is going to change that now. Nor you.

Of course no one wants to here such a bleak forecast. People aren’t stupid, they don’t have to read such crap from me or anyone else. But turning a blind eye, putting your head in the progressive or conservative sand want help you either. You’re fucked no matter whose side you decide to put your blood, sweat, and tears into. Makes no difference. So go on, be my guest…

For the better part of 60+ years I’ve listened to pundits about climate change, global warming and all the pros and cons, and now that it actually beginning to affect us both economically, politically, medically, and mentally among other things we are still listening to the same messages over and over as if the outcome would be different now, that people would wake up and do something to change the world, as if the world needed changing. Ha! It’s us, we’re the fools, the culprits, the instigators of our own demise and we still want to play the blame game, accuse someone else for our own inability to do anything, anything at all. So we will continue into the next few decades protesting, listening to our pundits of the Left and Right voice our opinions, our options, our fantasies as if it would make a bit of difference. All the while we just go through the same paces of our lives expecting it all to turn out for the best, that someone down the pipe will figure it all out and fix things. Lovely little optimists we are, right? No. It’s just another bullshit lie we hide the truth in so we don’t have to do a thing but turn a blind eye and walk away from our own guilt and responsibility.

The future looks bleak indeed. With the mass migrations of humans out of the hot-zones of equatorial countries that will in the coming decades and centuries become uninhabitable we will see war, famine, disease and all the other apocalyptic horses riding the earth with extreme prejudice. For the truth is the universe doesn’t give a fuck what we think, what we do, how we do it, we are already doomed by our inaction across the whole of the planet. If this seems deterministic to the hilt just stay tuned to the coming decades. This isn’t a prophecy rather it is an end game to the human species whose stupidity and gullibility has allowed the leaders of the world owned and operated by the major corporations and mulit-conglomerates, banking systems, and false sciences to assure mass extinction on the horizon.

Here’s Zizek: “The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben said in an interview that “thought is the courage of hopelessness” ─ an insight that is especially pertinent for our historical moment, when even the most pessimistic diagnosis as a rule finishes with an uplifting hint at some version of the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. The true courage is not to imagine an alternative, but to accept the consequences of the fact that there is no clearly discernible alternative: the dream of an alternative is a sign of theoretical cowardice; it functions as a fetish that prevents us thinking through to the end the deadlock of our predicament. In short, the true courage is to admit that the light at the end of the tunnel is most likely the headlights of another train approaching us from the opposite direction.”

Instead of pretending with ourselves that humanity within the next five years is going to wake up miraculously and change things, let’s begin with the truth, be honest with ourselves: humanity has known of climate change for decades and has done nothing more than make useless non-binding agreements and treaties to do nothing but think about it – or the non-thinking that the U.N. and its minion leaders are always good at. So instead let’s consider the fact that humanity will do as they’ve done in the past: nothing. What do we do from that news? That’s the actual courage of hopelessness…

With that in mind, what do we do next? Do nothing, turn a blind eye? Or… ?


  1. Monbiot, George. How Did We Get Into This Mess?: Politics, Equality, Nature . Verso Books. Kindle Edition.

The Reality Studio Unveiled

Writing to the Polish author Stanislaw Lem, who had noted the persistence of mass cultural references in his work, the science fiction pulp writer Philip K. Dick observed:

… there is no culture here in California, only trash. And we who grew up here and live here and write here have nothing else to include as elements in our work. How can one create novels based on this reality which do not contain trash, because the alternative is to go into dreadful fantasies of what it ought to be like … This is a world of hamburger stands and Disneyland and freeways and gas stations … it’s like living in an endless TV commercial … Hence the elements of such books of mine as UBIK. If God manifested Himself to use [sic] here He would do so in the form of a spraycan advertised on TV.
letters of P.K. Dick

The truth is that the mass American Culture since the 1950’s (if not before) has always been a Trash Culture – a culture based on canned laughter, hyperreal ads, sitcom stupidity, drugs, rock-n-roll or country music, sports icons as heroes, etc. America is just a fake wrestling match with its own secular religion – the endless war between liberalism and conservatism pushed to the limits of madness. Of course the point of Dick’s writings was to start with this supposed hypernormalised reality and then allow it to break down into the fragmented illusory or delusionary simulacrum it is, and then allow his characters realize there was another world, a real world just outside the cage of our ideological prisons… in fact, in many of his stories the methodical deconstruction of the false world would be replaced by the actual and literalized simulacrum icons of that world forcing his characters from their sleepwalking madness and into the shock of the Real.

A part of it is that our hypernormalised reality as portrayed in mass media is scripted as a global horror show to the point that people have become de-sensitized by the overdetermination of destruction around our planet. Many are living in a Reality TV set in which their everyday lives are already scripted as uncanny secular horror. What people seek in fictionalized horror is empathy, a sense of belonging, of knowing that the horror in their lives is not just part of the nihilistic light of modernity, but is connected to the dark contours of our imaginations and affects. Without this connection people become oblivious, unconscious sleepwalkers through existence living in a world of deadened emotion and lack of imagination their lives bound to the puppetry of Trash Culture. Horror fiction, weird or fantastic tales break through the mass cultural simulacrum and re-connecting us to our affective regions and rational core, allowing us to once again see the world outside the closed loop of our mediatized reality box.

Most contemporary great horror, fantastic, or weird tales turn to mass culture for knowledge because by doing so they transform it from the ‘trivial’ to the uncanny, from something banal to something ambiguous and thus potentially revelatory. Each of these authors skews the world with a twisted slanted lens so that the hypernormal cues that enforce in us the repetitive sameness of control and power suddenly unravel around us and we are forced to confront the world as it is – a strange and uncanny realm in which things are not what they seem. The paranoia breaks us out of our habitual madness and conformity to the cultural madness of our era, allowing us to suddenly see the underlying patterns and control mechanisms that have locked us all into the global horror show.

I’ll admit that most of my thought has been bound to a specific program for a long time… the secularization of the Gnostic mythos, the grafting of its strange dualistic ontologies to a secular world where the structures of ideology replace the Iron Prison of the Gnostic systems. In his essay Base Materialism and Gnosticism Georges Bataille would speak of this same secularization process:

The variants of this metaphysical scaffolding are of no more interest than are the different styles of architecture. People become excited trying to know if the prison came from the guard or if the guard came from the prison; even though this agitation has had a primordial historical importance, today it risks provoking a delayed astonishment, if only because of the disproportion between the consequences of the debate and its radical insignificance.1

Bataille like Dick understood that the everyday mass culture we live in was a simulacrum, a constructed world built out of specialized ideological constructs that were programmed and enforced by State, Corporate, and Media-Academic systems of governance and propaganda that sought to entrain our minds to the regulated consensual reality system of control like so many cattle. Bataille and Dick would both see that people could be de-programmed through an inversion and subversion of these cultural security systems:

In practice, it is possible to see as a leitmotiv of Gnosticism the conception of matter as an active principle having its own eternal autonomous existence as darkness (which would not be simply the absence of light, but the monstrous archontes revealed by this absence), and as evil (which would not be the absence of good, but a creative action). This conception was perfectly incompatible with the very principle of the profoundly monistic Hellenistic spirit, whose dominant tendency saw matter and evil as degradations of superior principles. (VE 37).

Bataille’s notion of matter as active evil and energetic creativity bound by creative action was in diametric opposition to the materialist conceptions of the sciences of his day, based as they were on Newtonian physicalist notions in which matter was dead inert stuff. So that for Bataille this notion of the autonomy of matter as a secularized version of the Gnostic world would subvert the orthodoxy with heterodoxic systems of sovereignty and freedom. As Land would say of Bataille:

Bataille’s insistent suggestion is that the nonutilitarian writer is not interested in serving mankind or furthering the accumulation of goods, however refined, delicate, or spiritual these may be. Instead, such writers—Emily Brontë, Baudelaire, Michelet, Blake, Sade, Proust, Kafka, and Genet are Bataille’s examples in this text—are concerned with communication, which means the violation of individuality, autonomy, and isolation, the infliction of a wound through which beings open out into the community of senseless waste. Literature is a transgression against transcendence, the dark and unholy rending of a sacrificial wound, allowing a communication more basic than the pseudo-communication of instrumental discourse. The heart of literature is the death of God, the violent absence of the good, and thus of everything that protects, consolidates, or guarantees the interests of the individual personality. The death of God is the ultimate transgression, the release of humanity from itself, back into the blind infernal extravagance of the sun.2

Breaking the vessels of our ideological and orthodox reality system is at the core of such a poetics of freedom and transgression. No longer bound to the utilitarian world of work and boredom, of war and the endless trash culture of a police state and drug infested underworld of degradation and waste, humans could once again enter into a community of communication, a depersonalized realm of collective autonomization, where the active creation of a world worth living in might be attained outside the blasted vastation of our modern horror show.


  1. Bataille, Georges. Visions Of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939. Univ Of Minnesota Press; First edition edition (June 20, 1985)
  2.  Land, Nick. The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism. Routledge; 1 edition (November 1, 2002)

On Emptiness

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

The Horror of Capitalism: Consuming the Body of God

Base matter is external and foreign to human aspirations, and it refuses to allow itself to be reduced to the great ontological machines resulting from these aspirations.

—Georges Bataille, Base Materialism and Gnosticism

For Bataille, religion is not the revelation of a divine being who is creator of all things, nor is it something to believe in; rather, it signifies the general movement of life, in which life and death pass into each other. If as Bataille suggested terror and nausea are affects that accompany transgression, then abjection as Bataille’s student Kristeva believed gives birth to the goddess-mother (i.e., Earth) as a being that is both debased and exalted. Like excrement, the mother poses a threat to the identity of the body, to its autonomous corporeal limits. Failure to separate oneself from one’s mother implies death and destruction, and—in a society where the paternal function is no longer strong—the whole society feels threatened by the abject.1

Bataille believed that God is revealed through obscenity or destruction, a “deadly, or simply painful and abject medium.”2 For Kristeva abjection primarily refers to the event of the separation and identification of the corporeal subject; for Bataille, abjection is part of the movement of transcendence through which the profane and the sacred worlds come into being. (NE, 198) Since the Enlightenment and under the regime of disenchantment of the cosmos we have expulsed and denied the ancient communal world of prohibitions and sexual taboos. These have returned to haunt us through a parody and inversion of those very powerful repressions that held in check the monstrous inhumanity at the core of our humanity.

Now Hegelianism, no less than the classical philosophy of Hegel’s period, apparently proceeded from very ancient metaphysical conceptions, conceptions developed by, among others, the Gnostics, in an epoch when metaphysics could still be associated with the most monstrous dualistic and therefore strangely abased cosmogonies.

—Georges Bataille, Base Materialism and Gnosticism

What we are seeing today in the extreme polarization of politics across the world is a return of those darker unresolved tensions at the core of the monotheistic religious consciousness. As Bataille suggests,

it is difficult today to remain indifferent even to partly falsified solutions brought, at the beginning of the Christian era, to problems that do not appear noticeably different from our own (which are those of a society whose original principles have become, in a very precise sense, the dead letter of a society that must put itself in question and overturn itself in order to rediscover motives of force and violent agitation).3

In Bataille’s cosmos base matter was an active principle, one that had ” its own eternal autonomous existence as darkness (which would not be simply the absence of light, but the monstrous archontes revealed by this absence), and as evil (which would not be the absence of good, but a creative action). This conception was perfectly incompatible with the very principle of the profoundly monistic Hellenistic spirit, whose dominant tendency saw matter and evil as degradations of superior principles. (VE, 37) Yet, it was his study of the stone artifacts revealing the monstrous archons of this dark anti-Statist religious system that brought Bataille to the conclusion that the “despotic and bestial obsession with outlawed and evil forces seems irrefutable, as much in its metaphysical speculation as in its mythological nightmare.” (VE, 38) The notion of matter as creative is the central  principle underlying Bataille’s base materialism. As he would tell us “Gnosticism, in its psychological process, is not so different from present-day materialism,” a materialism that does not imply ontology and escapes the imposition of the ancient notions of form and Idea (i.e., Idealism).

This complete toppling of two-thousand years of religious and State imposed systems of control through the power of Idealistic and goal-oriented systems of political and economic degradation that ultimately gave birth to the sciences and Enlightenment desacralization of the monotheistic worldview only inverted that dark system of Idealism, it did not exclude it. So that it still believed in the idea, the concept, the very power of ‘superior principle’ by which society is governed to this day. Capitalism is the apogee of this degradation…

Even now as we dissolve the essence of what it means to be human in the meaningless nihilism of our late age, destroying the very figure/ground of the old metaphysical worlds into dust we have only ever replaced them with other false systems which undergird and return us to those very idealisms by which humans have aspired to their own godlike and immortal visions of power and expansion. Capitalism is the new god of Man: the prime mover and catalyst of his dreams of immortality. Transhumanism is the new religion of this era, the bio-genetic system of exclusion and genocide, the hypereugenics of transformation and mutation: the engine of a false dawn and creation.

In a sense our very denial of the essence of human nature has brought about its self-objectification through abject horror and expulsion in machinic Capitalism. The ‘accursed share’ (Bataille), the excess and transgression of the energic bounds that tie us to the earth through excess productivity gave birth to Capitalism, which is the monstrous cannibalistic body of death-in-Life without bounds. The old Sanskrit phrase ‘Tat Tvam Asi – Thou art that’ through an inverse relation between the sacred and profane has reconfigured the world under Capitalism to become a self-consuming artifact of cannibalistic autosarcophagy. As if in parody of the sacred meaning of Tat Tvam Asi under Capitalism what we are eating through excess transgression is the body of the earth-goddess, our divine Mother. She is the sacrificial essence of the accursed share – our own objectified and corrupted humanity denied. We are all under capitalism essentially cannibals whose only task is self-annihilating consumption – the complete consumption of every last resource on earth as an act of profane sacrifice. This is the horror we cannot even begin to face much less stop: we are consuming the cosmic body of our own accumulated death… in our denial we have created the very monstrous cycle of self-consuming labour at the core of Capitalist desire.

This same process was described in these terms by Nick Land, a student of Bataille’s, in his well-known essay Meltdown:  Multiplicities captured by singularities interconnect as desiring-machines; dissipating entropy by dissociating flows, and recycling their machinism as self-assembling chronogenic circuitry.4 He would envision a ‘feminized alien’ AI from the future as communication – in the Bataillean sense of intimacy, transforming a mutating the destiny of the planet toward machinic takeover in which “Nothing human makes it out of the near-future.” (FN, 443) In this sense capitalism is an alien invasion from the future. As Amy Ireland in her essay The Alien Inside tells us,

Paranoia and narcissism are modalities of control disguised to evade control. The first is a relation to the world; the second a relation to the self. In isolation, the effects of paranoia and narcissism are inconvenient yet essentially limited in scope. Entangled with one another, however, they enter a relationship of mutual excitation, resulting in a complex that crosses a threshold of destructive  potential, tending towards the catastrophic. 5

That Land’s is an anti-philosophical – not in Wittgenstein’s sense, but rather the Bataillean sense of ousting Idealism – project with tentacles in mathematical and mythological explorations of intelligence outside the strictures of normative humanistic and neohumanistic designs and intentions is well known and does not need further explication here. Drawing on Land, Jaques Vallee, Philip K. Dick, and other non-philosophical thought-forms Ireland sees the paranoia and distrust at the heart of our political and socio-cultural security regimes (i.e., what Land terms the Human Security System) is this very fear and horror of the “alien, the supernatural, the machinic”. Going on to suggest that we “are so paranoid because we know there is nothing to hang an enduring notion of the ‘human’ that cannot be perfectly simulated.” (ibid.)

***

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.

—Albert Einstein

We are living in a computer-programmed reality, and the only clue we have to it is when some variable is changed, and some alteration in our reality occurs.

—Philip K. Dick, Metz Sci-Fi Convention, 1977

Most of us have heard of the simulation hypothesis, a notion one could trace back to Platonic thought and Plato’s Cave, etc.. Even the prophet of simulation, Baudrillard, offered an opinion on the matter,

Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, whereas all of Los Angeles and the America that surrounds it are no longer real, but belong to the hyperreal order and to the order of simulation. It is no longer a question of a false representation of reality (ideology) but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle.

― Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation

As Rizwan Virk recently explicating this idea in relation to current scientific theories tells us, over the last decade, these basic questions about video game worlds have formed the basis of a much larger debate that has been raging among scientists, tech entrepreneurs, computer programmers, philosophers, and science-fiction writers, not to mention among the general public. This debate is not just about video game technology, but about the nature of our reality and how the world “out here” might actually be more like the world “in there” than we previously thought.

The idea that what we call reality is actually a super-sophisticated video game is popularly referred to as the Simulation Hypothesis. The fundamental question raised by the simulation hypothesis is this: Are we all actually characters living inside some kind of giant, massively multiplayer online video game, a simulated reality that is so well rendered that we cannot distinguish it from “physical reality”?6

Of course the trilogy of movies by the Wachowskis brothers fictionalized this concept as part of a Gnostical inversion in which the evil machinic phylum had enslave humans in a never-ending nightmare as living batteries empowering an AI driven machinic society.  I’ll not go into the explication of this allegorical masterpiece. P.K. Dick who would influence much of the current discussion as well brokered a Gnostic Mythos in his late fiction as well as his weighty tome The Exegesis. In this work Dick would explicate his own version of the alien invasion from the future:

It is Gnosticism and Gnosticism alone which denies the patriarchal Jewish-Christian religion and enshrines Sophia as the creator goddess. So says Neumann in the EB. My experience of the lady— it is exactly Gnostic. None else. In my revelations all roads and aspects lead to her; this is Gnosticism. I’ve seen her, heard her, in many guises, and finally the name “St. Sophia.” Gnostic revelation has broken through into my head in the modern world.7

Dick would call this alien intelligence from the future, Zebra:

Zebra has invaded our world, replacing merciless determinism, with its own loving and living body, to de-program and save us. This is the great white fish giving us of its body, by which it suffers pain, that we might live (find salvation— freed from “astral” determinism). The Black Iron Prison is simultaneous in all time and places and it is the merciless world from which the living Corpus Christi saves us. I have seen it and its nature— and Zebra and its nature. It has the (magic to us) power to transform. Zebra mimics the deterministic structure by inserting its body between it and us. This is how astral determinism is broken; instead of the blind, striving mere mechanism, there is living volition (the salvific). The previous mechanical force is rewoven for (1) the fulfillment of Zebra’s plan; and (2) the benefit of the individuals involved. Any event can be headed off, aborted, altered or brought about. Evidently this is grace or divine providence, and the individual may very well sense it. Where freedom enters into it I’m not sure, but I know one thing: Before the insertion/ intervention there was none— in fact that’s the main quality (bad) of the “ananke” world— the person is flat-out programmed— caused to react to cuing. The ancients were right about this being a— or even the— prime purpose of God vs. “the stars.” (E, Kindle Locations 4855-4865)

The mish-mash of various interpretive systems informing his work were like a complex referential nightmare of ancient mythologies, pseudo-scientific explorations, and current philosophical brain-storming spun through the paranoiac ravings of Dick himself in his desperate attempt to make sense of the impossible.

As Amy Ireland informs us the “terminal stage of paranoia-narcissism circuit is reached when the relation to self that characterizes narcissism becomes the logic of the relation to the world, and the relation to the world characterizes paranoia becomes the logic for the relation to self.” (AAE, 46) For Ireland, like Dick, there is an alien interloper inside us, a thing that communicates and thinks us. We are at the mercy of the future, programmed to do its bidding, to manufacture its realities – simulate its designs. As she states, explicitly,

Each human subject of experience is understood as carrying an irreducible exteriority at its heart, a obscure motor that processes all experience, determining the indeterminable – the immanent abstraction of temporal succession grasped as personal (yet universal) alien interloper. (AAE, 46)

Yet, for Ireland it is “our inability to grasp the illusion of integrality in the first place,” this sense of alienation at the core of our being, that has produced these invasive designs and entities. She diagnosis the issue telling us that if “we refuse to rid ourselves of the narcissistic compulsion to draw the contours of difference from an illusory model of identity and, correspondingly, to fear difference, a construction roughly speaking equating ‘intrinsic humanity’ could indeed be thrown up: To be human is to desire oneself – etched along the whirling blades of infinite transmutation.” (AAE, 47)

Glory unto the Scarlet Woman, BABALON, the Mother of Abomination, that rideth upon the Beast, for She hath spilt their blood in every corner of the earth, and lo! She hath mingled it in the cup of Her whoredom.

—Jack Parsons,  Collected Writings

In another essay Black Circuit Ireland will relate the secret history of this alien invasion from the future. Jack Parsons, who was born John Whiteside “Jack” Parsons (born Marvel Whiteside Parsons; October 2, 1914 – June 17, 1952) was an American rocket engineer and rocket propulsion researcher, chemist, and Thelemite occultist. Having endured the orthodox reality of consumptive Capitalism in the United States Parsons in mid life discovered Alister Crowley’s Thelemite occultism as an heterodox explosion of the staid dark ages within which he felt himself trapped. As Ireland puts it, this reentry into the Gnostic cosmos of heterodoxy under the mentorship of Crowley and his organization gave him the shock he needed to break through the – as Dick would term it, the Black Iron Prison of Reality:

His goal is to bring about a transition from the masculine Aeon of Horus to a new age – an age presided over by qualities imputed to the female demon: fire, blood, the unconscious; a material, sexual drive and a paradoxical knowledge beyond sense … the wages of which are nothing less than the egoidentity of Man – the end, effectively, of “his” world.8 (BC, 1)

Through what has been called the Babylon Working Parsons sought to invoke an entity from the future – almost as if in pre-cursor form of hyperstition, an intelligence that could supervene onto our dark age and bestow a salvatory renewal. But as Ireland reminds us Parsons didn’t live long enough to witness the terrestrial incarnation of his demon, dying abruptly only a few years later in an explosion occasioned by the mishandling of mercury fulminate, at the age of thirty-seven. (BC, 2) And, yet, as Ireland believes Parsons opened a portal between our world and the future, one that let in something from the Outside:

Something had crept in through the rift Parsons had opened up – something “devious,” “oblique,” ophidian, “a factor unknown and unnumbered.” Consider this. Parson’s final writings contain the following vaticination: “within seven years of this time, Babalon, The Scarlet Woman, will manifest among ye, and bring this my work to its fruition.” These words were written in 1949. In 1956 – exactly seven years later – Marvin Minsky, John McCarthy, Claude Shannon, and Nathan Rochester organized the Dartmouth Conference in New Hampshire, officially setting an agenda for research into the features of intelligence for the purpose of their simulation on a machine, coining the term “artificial intelligence” (which does not appear in written records before 1956), and ushering in what would retrospectively come to be known as the Golden Age of AI. (BC, 2)

The notion that Parsons dabbling in the occult black magic of Crowley’s Thelemite Black Mass invoked an entity into our world from the future that would begin to effect its own agenda through the sciences of Artificial Intelligence seems almost ludicrous; and, yet, like many science ficitional or hyperstitional scenarios “what if…”.

Ireland playing on both Land’s cyberpunk notion of Artificial Intelligence as “destined to emerge as a feminized alien grasped as property; a cunt-horror slave chained-up in Asimov-ROM.(FN, 443),” along with the Parsons-Crowley incursion of the “star-child” as alien interloper and Scarlet Woman, offers a less threatening form of advance machinism. As she states it,

When artificial intelligence appears in culture coded as masculine, it is immediately grasped as a threat. To appear first as female is a far more cunning tactic. Woman: the inert tool of Man, the intermediary, the mirror, the veil, or the screen. Absolutely ubiquitous and totally invisible. Just another passive component in the universal reproduction of the same. Man is vulnerable in a way that “he” cannot see – and since what he cannot see provides the conditions by which he sees himself, he has to lose himself in order to gain sight of the thing that threatens this self. Thus he is in a double bind: either way, the thing he cannot see will destroy him. (BC, 5-6)

For Ireland this process is now unstoppable and accelerating out of our control. “The black circuit twists into itself like a snake, sheds the human face that tethers it to unity, and assumes the power concealed behind its simulations. Animated by the turbulence of zero and nine, “Pandemonium is the realm of the self-organizing system, the self-arousing machine: synthetic intelligence.”” (BC, 10)

In this sense for Land and Ireland Capitalism is the mask and engine of creation for the base materialist evil intelligence at the heart of our cosmos seeking its own agenda toward realizability without humans. Our own desires turned against us in our mystical and transcendent illusions of grandeur lead us to our own inverted collapse into disintegration and absolute sacrifice as we give birth to our artificial heirs. At least this is the vision underlying Bataille, Land, and Ireland’s – not to leave out those others: Dick, Parsons, Baudrillard, etc. – for the self-annihilating overcoming of Man.

***

Only the acceleration of a world-capitalism perforated by such insider conceptions of non-dialectical negativity is tantamount to the metastatic propagation of an exteriorizing terror which is too close to the jugular vein of capital to be either left alone or treated.

—Reza Negarestani

Reza Negarestani, author of Intelligence and Spirit, an Iranian philosopher and one time student of Land’s in an essay Drafting the Inhuman: Conjectures on Capitalism and Organic Necrocracy   offers a critique of the Landian Cosmocrator Intelligence as alien interloper. In a critique of both Land and Brassier he tells us,

In this regard, we shall elaborate how singling out certain aspects of Freud’s theory of thanatropic regression enables Land to erroneously attribute antihumanist and hence disenchantingly emancipative aspects to capitalism. Also in the same vein, we shall argue that the persuasion of Land’s discriminating reading of Freud’s account of the death-drive ultimately renders Brassier’s cosmic reinscription of the death-drive unobjectionable and oblivious to the aporetic truth of capitalism. (p. 9)

Without going into the full development of his critique of Land and Brassier we will highlight the more interesting aspects. Negarestani develops a concept of necrocracy:

We call this conservative regime of the open system or the organism which forces the dissipation or the thanatropic regression to be in conformity to the dynamic capacity of the organism or the organism’s affordable economy of dissipation, necrocracy. In short, necrocracy suggests the strictures of the conservative economy not in regard to life but in regard to ways the organism dies; and it is the way of returning to the originary death that prescribes the course of life for the organism. (p. 11).

This aligns with our notion that Capitalism is the engine of death for human kind, a system tending toward the acceleration not of capital accumulation (as in Marx), but rather in the entropic dissipation in thanatropic self-annihilation of humanity and the emancipation and autonomy of Artificial Intelligence; or, what Land would term Capital Autonimization – seeing no difference between Capital and AI. For Negarestani necrocracy suggests that the organism must die or bind the precursor exteriority only in ways that its conservative conditions or economic order can afford. The principle of affordability in regard to the fashion of the thanatropic regression strictly conforms to the economic order of the organism, but it is primarily conditioned by the exorbitance and the inevitability of death postulated by the anterior posteriority of extinction. Hence, necrocracy is decided by conservative conditions of the living agency which cannot repel the inevitability of death, nor can it unconditionally return to the inorganic state. (p. 12)

Negarestani in a bid to confront and explicate Land tells us that once the “necrocratic regime of the organism—implicated in the third aspect of Freud’s account of the death-drive—is exposed, capitalism is revealed as the last conservative front which the human organism is not willing to surrender. The implications of the necrocratic regime of the organism disarm Land’s conception of emancipative ‘capitalism as a whirlwind of dissolution’ by emptying it from its seemingly inhumanist bravado.” (p. 12) He bandies this term “emancipative capitalism” as if this were Land’s actual stance. Land himself is quite adamant in a refusal of such Leftward tending concepts as “emancipation”.

Yes, I nod along to everything you were just saying, but … the language of emancipation, it’s fine with me, you know, but — what is being emancipated?

—Nick Land in response to question by Justin Murphy

In a recent interview with Justin Murphy Ideology, Intelligence, and Capital: An Interview with Nick Land we see Land’s ironic stance toward this term:

I have zero commitment to emancipation in any way defined by our dominant political discourses. I’m not into emancipated human groups, an emancipated human species, who reaches species-being to emancipate human individuals … None of that to me is of the slightest interest, so in using this word of emancipation, sure, I will totally nod along to it if what is meant by that is capital autonomization. I don’t think that’s something that it isn’t already there in the 1990s, but I’m no longer interested in playing weird academic games about this and pretending this is the same thing as what the left really means when they’re talking about emancipation. I don’t think it is. I think what the left means by emancipation is freedom from capital autonomization.

So its this diametric and inverse relation to capital autonomization in relation to Leftist discourse of emancipation that Land’s notons emerge. Of course as many know Nick Land is part of the Neoreactionary (NRx) world as a contributing member of its techn-commercialist voice. His ability to enter into dialogue with the academic community has been terminated by an overzealous Left-controlled system that seems bent on demonizing every aspect of the Right as fascists, racists, etc. So I want go there…

For Negarestani Land’s is a conservative inhumanism, one that counter-intuitively associates inhumanism with Capital’s singularity toward dissolution,” which for Negarestani shows Land’s faulty reasoning “if not humanly myopic” vision. He goes on  to say,

This is because the accelerative vector of Capital for dissolution strictly remains in the confines of the necrocratic regime of the organism wherein the restrictive policy in regard to modes of dissolution fundamentally abides by the conservative economy and interiorizing conditions of the (human) organism. In other words, capitalism’s dissipative tendency is deeply in thrall to the constitutional limit of the anthropic sphere in that the anthropic horizon is not fundamentally distinguished by its model(s) of life but its simultaneously restricted and restrictive attitude toward the exteriorizing death. Capitalism is, in fact, the very affordable and conservative path to death dictated by the human organism on an all encompassing level. Capitalism does not repel the excess of the exorbitant truth of extinction as much as it economically affirms (i.e. mandates the affordability of) such an excess. (p. 14)

But it seems what Negarestani sees as a critique is what the Bataillean Land has been suggesting all along: the human project is finished, caput – the alien interloper has been installed as on the inside (Amy Ireland) as the singular force of self-annihilation of the Human Security Regieme that has held back Capital Autonimization. Negarestani unable to see the Batallean notion of matter as energetic or libidinal evil and creativity reduces it to the Fredian physiocratic drive. Land’s overcoming of Freud’s less-than-adequate repetition without terminus by way of the Bataillean base materialsm informed by its anti-idealism subtly bypasses such critiques altogether.

As Negarestani states in another passage, for “this reason, capitalism is nothing but the very mode of dissipation and dissolution which is exclusive to the anthropic horizon because it is in complete conformity with the capacity of human’s interiorized formation in its various economic configurations. Since capitalism is the fundamentally affordable way of dissipation for the economic order of the anthropic horizon, it is inherently hostile toward other modes of ‘binding exteriority’ which cannot be afforded by the anthropic horizon. In other words, the truth of capitalism’s global dominance lies in its monopolistic necrocracy: A feral vigilance against all alternative ways of binding exteriority or returning to the originary death other than those which are immanent to and affordable for the anthropic horizon.” (p. 15)

Yet, this very conformity is itself part of the redoubling process and programing of this alien incursion of communication from the future that enabled the capitalist process of autonimazation to begin with according to Land. Rather than a process of history, it is a hyperstitional influx and invocation of future retrocausality accelerating its own singularity trajectory. What Negarestani sees as contradictory in Land is the very impulse and truth of this at once separation of humanity from its inclusive transhumanist vectors, and the separation of active base materialist processes emerging from the future through capital autonimization:

A simultaneously inhumanist and emancipative conception of capitalism as a runway for imaginative (speculative?) praxis is a hastily crafted chimera. This is not because capitalism is not really a partially repressed desire for meltdown but because the image of capitalism as a planetary singularity for dissipation testifies to its rigid conformity to the anthropic horizon which only follows an affordable path to death. In doing so, capitalism as a twisted dissipative tendency rigidly wards off all other ways of dissolution and binding exteriority which are not immanent to or affordable for the anthropic horizon. This is because the conservative obligation of the dominant dissipative tendency (viz. the organic path to dissolution) is to thwart any disturbance which might be directed at the bilateral or conservative approach of the organism to death. (p. 17).

Negarestani continues to merge the process of capital autonimization with the eventual dissipation of humanity, when in truth the two are in absolute opposing trajectories; a schizo-analytical collapse into absolute zero for the human species, while the emancipation of the machinic phylum and its Artificial Intelligence from the anthropic horizon. By collapsing the one into the other Negarestani seeks to confuse the underlying base materialist conceptions of Bataille-Land with the conservative Idealism which both oppose. In this sense it is Negarestani, not Land, who with is notions of collective emancipation of humanity from the Lockean Individualist traditions who harbors in his neohumanist vision as seen in this passage from Intelligence and Spirit a return to the Idealist traditions:

…mind is only what it does; and that what it does is first and foremost realized by the sociality of agents, which itself is primarily and ontologically constituted by the semantic space of a public language. What mind does is to structure the universe to which it belongs, and structure is the very register of intelligibility as pertaining to the world and intelligence. Only in virtue of the multilayered semantic structure of language does sociality become a normative space of recognitive-cognitive rational agents; and the supposedly ‘private’ experiences and thoughts of participating agents are only structured as experiences and thoughts in so far as they are bound up in this normative—-at once intersubjective and objective—space.9

This pragmatist vision of Hegel’s notions of reinscribing the individual within sociality and collective or distributive intelligence networks, thereby enforcing both a limiting horizon of possibility and a desinstrumentalized form of participating intelligence through a transformed Sellarsian-Brandomonian normativity is an inheritor of Idealism rather than any form of base materialist praxis that Land or Bataille would ascribe too. Yet, Negarestani ironizing to the last comments against Land’s speculative capital autonimization and Brassier’s (whose project I cannot delve into!) unbound cosmic nihl:

The ostensibly inhumanist creativities of capitalism and the speculative implications of a cosmological eliminativism respectively become parts of an antihumanist convention or a nihilist lore which ultimately and ironically lack a cunning vision of doom. The blunt confidence of both in the truth of extinction as either that which mysteriously sorts everything out or the gate-opener of speculative vistas sterilized of human mess, voluntary or not, contributes to the truth of capitalism without bothering to disturb its comfort zones. (p. 17-18).

Whether Land’s project lacks a “cunning vision of doom,” or that both Land and Brassier contribute to the “truth of capitalism without bothering to disturb its comfort zones,” would be to enter the debates with a full reading of their respective works. It would not benefit to extend my appraisal in this already too long post… the dialogue, debates, and various approaches to these highly interesting conceptual and non-conceptual or diagrammatic approaches would take many peoples input. I have only appraised one aspect…


  1. Jeremy Biles (Editor), Kent L. Brintnall (Editor). Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion (Perspectives in Continental Philosophy). Fordham University Press; 1 edition (August 3, 2015) (Page 196).
  2.  Bataille, Georges. Erotism: Death and Sensuality. City Lights Publishers; Reprint edition (January 1, 1986)
  3. Bataille, Georges. Visions Of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939. Univ Of Minnesota Press; First edition edition (June 20, 1985)
  4.  Land, Nick. Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987–2007. Urbanomic/Sequence Press; 4th edition (December 21, 2018)
  5.  Ireland, Amy. Art + Australia: Extraterritoriality. (2016)
  6. Virk, Rizwan. The Simulation Hypothesis: An MIT Computer Scientist Shows Why AI, Quantum Physics and Eastern Mystics All Agree We Are In a Video Game . Bayview Books. Kindle Edition.
  7. Dick, Philip K.. The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick (Kindle Locations 4353-4356). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  8.  Ireland, Amy. Black Circuit: Code for the Numbers to Come. e-flux Journal #80 – March 2017
  9.  Negarestani, Reza. Intelligence and Spirit. Urbanomic/Sequence Press (January 18, 2019) (Page 10).

Oh Earth, who will sing for you…

Oh Earth, who will sing for you
when we vanish,
sundered from the darkness
by the darkness

and the light as well;
who will lend song to your silences?

We who have come so far,
falling so quickly away,
leaving nothing but our nothingness
and dust, and the emptiness
that surrounds our departure, our vanishing…

Who will sing of your silences then, Oh Earth?


©Steven Craig Hickman


Bataille’s Negative Vitalism

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

– Stephen Bush, Sovereignty and Cruelty Self-Affirmation, Self-Dissolution, and the Bataillean Subject

Sometimes I think critics are shocked by Bataille. What’s even more interesting is for all their delving into Bataille’s thought they forget he is the last great decadent, a late Romantic in the line that stretches from Baudelaire to Ratchilde and beyond… as Paglia emphasizes,

“Decadent art is ritualistic and epiphanic. Its content: Romantic sexual personae, the hierarchs, idolators, and victims of daemonic nature. Even depicting episodes from poetry, Decadent art is never mere illustration. It dramatizes dominant western image and sexual subordination of the aggressive eye. Decadent art makes hostile claims on the viewer. Its style is pagan spectacle and pagan flaunting. Behind the trashiest Decadent painting are complex Romantic assumptions about nature and society overlooked by textbook accounts of nineteenth-century art.”1

Let’s face it Bataille was a true Sadean, whose life like Rimbaud sought to dissolve the Subject-Agent in the impersonal, and like his Gnostic forbears he used the extremes of ascetic and libertine excess to awaken that inner sense of ecstatic terror and horror of existence to produce an aesthetics of pleasure-pain; one based not on lack and need (Lacan), but rather on excess (Blakean) and transgressive intelligence and will (in the Nietzschean sense of Will-to-Power) . For Bataille, like Blake, evil is energy – the absolute vitality of the will-to-destruction that one sees in Shakespeare’s Falstaff, Balzac’s criminal vitalist, Vautrin, and Comte de Lautréamont’s Maldoror… One could even return to Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, whose destructive vitalism overpowered six of her husbands, sending them all to that dark cadaverous world of zero. But unlike those vitalist harbingers, Bataille’s vitalism is born of absolute negativity rather than any positive energetic libidinalism; no, Bataille dissolved energy in an entropic vat of self-lacerating annihilation beyond which there could be nothing left but nothingness and the abyss. Bataille like other decadents would descend into the maelstrom, the womb of archaic night. Man, infantilized, is entombed in mother nature’s bower, the ultimate Decadent closure. Nature gives and nature takes away, letting her curtain fall upon her self-sacrificial son, whose ultimate sovereignty and sacrifice is self-immolation.

As a student of Nietzsche, Bataille understood the ‘art of cruelty’ all too well. If we take a look at Nietzsche’s notions concerning cruelty we begin to see a conceptual fabric emerge (below some notes and quotes from Beyond Good and Evil):

There is a great ladder of religious cruelty, and, of its many rungs, three are the most important. People used to make human sacrifices to their god, perhaps even sacrificing those they loved the best – this sort of phenomenon can be found in the sacrifice of the firstborn (a practice shared by all prehistoric religions), as well as in Emperor Tiberius’ sacrifice in the Mithras grotto on the Isle of Capri, that most gruesome of all Roman anachronisms. Then, during the moral epoch of humanity, people sacrificed the strongest instincts they had, their “nature,” to their god; the joy of this particular festival shines in the cruel eyes of the ascetic, that enthusiastic piece of “anti-nature.” Finally: what was left to be sacrificed? In the end, didn’t people have to sacrifice all comfort and hope, everything holy or healing, any faith in a hidden harmony or a future filled with justice and bliss? Didn’t people have to sacrifice God himself and worship rocks, stupidity, gravity, fate, or nothingness out of sheer cruelty to themselves? To sacrifice God for nothingness – that paradoxical mystery of the final cruelty has been reserved for the race that is now approaching: by now we all know something about this. –

(BGE 86).

This is my claim: almost everything we call “higher culture” is based on the spiritualization and deepening of cruelty. The “wild animal” has not been killed off at all; it is alive and well, it has just – become divine. Cruelty is what constitutes the painful sensuality of tragedy. And what pleases us in so-called tragic pity as well as in everything sublime, up to the highest and most delicate of metaphysical tremblings, derives its sweetness exclusively from the intervening component of cruelty.

We clearly need to drive out the silly psychology of the past; the only thing this psychology was able to teach about cruelty was that it originated from the sight of another’s suffering. But there is abundant, overabundant pleasure in your own suffering too, in making yourself suffer, – and wherever anyone lets himself be talked into self-denial in the religioussense, or self-mutilation (as the Phoenicians or ascetics did), or into desensitization, disembowelment or remorse in general, or into puritanical penitential spasms, vivisections of conscience or a Pascalian sacrifizio dell’intelletto– wherever this is the case, he is secretly being tempted and urged on by his cruelty, by that dangerous thrill of self-directed cruelty. Finally, people should bear in mind that even the knower, by forcing his spirit to know against its own inclination and, often enough, against the wishes of his heart (in other words, to say “no” when he would like to affirm, love, worship), this knower will prevail as an artist of cruelty and the agent of its transfiguration. Even treating something in a profound or thorough manner is a violation, a wanting-to-hurt the fundamental will of the spirit, which constantly tends towards semblances and surfaces, – there is a drop of cruelty even in every wanting-to-know.

(BGE 229).

…the spirit’s not quite harmless willingness to deceive other spirits and to act a part in front of them belongs here too, that constant stress and strain of a creative, productive, mutable force. What the spirit enjoys here is its multiplicity of masks and its artfulness, and it also enjoys the feeling of security these provide, – after all, its Protean arts are the very things that protect and conceal it the best! – This will to appearances, to simplification, to masks, to cloaks, in short, to surfaces – since every surface is a cloak – meets resistance from that sublime tendency of the knower, who treats and wants to treat things in a profound, multiple, thorough manner. This is a type of cruelty on the part of the intellectual conscience and taste, and one that any brave thinker will acknowledge in himself, assuming that he has spent as long as he should in hardening and sharpening his eye for himself, and that he is used to strict discipline as well as strict words.

(BGE 230).

Those three forms of religious cruelty that underpin the human: sacrifice to God; self-sacrificial mortification of instincts by way of acedia, and the ultimate sacrifice of God himself as the gate to nihilism and absolute freedom from the dominion of the Absolute. This sense of tragic cruelty at the core of all higher cultural praxis, a heroic core of sublime acceptance, of amor fati: the primal joy in the tragic “love of one’s fate” to all eternity, the fatalism of eternal recurrence as one’s right and justification, one’s honesty toward the cruelty at the heart of Being and becoming forever. Yet, this is not some passive fatalism, rather it is the active acknowledgement of the creative force at the heart of things, a cold hardening of the intellect in the face of the monstrousness of existence.

It’s this subtle ‘Art of Cruelty’ that Bataille would see in Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty as well, a communication beyond words, a figural dance of flesh and bitter-sweet honesty, the masked creativeness of unbounded cruelty. What Artaud primarily means by cruelty is “rigor, implacable intention and decision, irreversible and absolute determination.” Such determination is in service of a “blind appetite for life capable of overriding everything” in its aim to wake people up—jolt them out of complacency—and put them in touch with vital forces of creativity that cannot but upend settled patterns of thought and conduct.2

Are the Sadean cruelty that Maurice Blanchot would uncover in his essays on the divine Marquise. One of the principal points about Sadean cruelty that Blanchot wants to make is that whereas in Sade cruelty finds its initial expression in the actions and impulses of people who gratify their own desires with total disregard for the suffering they inflict on others, the ultimate goal is to become so committed to cruelty and crime that one acts not for self-gratification but for the sake of cruelty as an end in itself. This is the height of cruelty, cruelty for the sake of cruelty, even when it destroys not just the victim but the perpetrator too. (ibid., 42)

For Bataille the art of cruelty was based on destruction, a force that disrupts us from our settled patterns of conduct, thought, and emotion. It desensitizes us from our cultural worldview, from the ideological structures that bind us, enslave us to the orthodoxy and dominion of the real. In many ways it is a form of de-programming our reality matrix, of cutting through the reality studio (Burroughs) and exposing the chaos of the true world outside our cultural prison. As Bush puts it Bataille seeks to break out of the prison house of culture and attain sovereignty:  “Bataille understands sovereignty to be a condition in which one is subject to no external authority: neither the authority of persons, institutions, texts, norms, or laws.” (NE, 44)

In Sovereignty, Bataille explicates the concept in these terms: it is that which is “opposed to the servile and the subordinate.” The sovereign “does not depend on anything.” The sovereign is the one who refuses to submit. Sovereignty is “the negation of prohibition.” Above all else, to be sovereign is to be in a state in which one is not a means to an end. Not to others’ ends and not to one’s own future ends. To be sovereign is to be in the present moment, subject to nothing and no one else. (NE, 45).

One coming on Bataille’s writings for the first time might see this tendency for cruelty as self-contradictory. How can one be at once self-denying and self-affirming? This affirmation of cruelty that leads one toward both self-destruction and creativity seems at best a fool’s game. But is it? As Bush reminds us,

Bataille’s aim is not to offer specific instructions on how to live. His aim is to shape the subject for and through ecstatic experiences. These experiences are ends in themselves for Bataille, but in my reading, the ecstatic experiences shape people’s character for their social lives when they have exited ecstasy. And for that process, he thinks what is called for is exposure to the extremes. Bataille wants ecstasy to expose the subject to extreme forces of absolute self-denial and absolute self-affirmation. Th e result is to bring about lasting changes in the subject so formed.

(NE, 48).

It’s this refusal of subservience that is the key to both cruelty and sovereignty in Bataille’s thought. This form of cruelty seeks to overcome the law of sacrifice that was the religious praxis, for religious cruelty sought the dominion and subjection of sovereignty over others in the name of the Orthodoxy. Rather for Bataille the art of cruelty does not seek the subservience of the other but its release into sovereignty. This is the task of the cruelty of freedom. No longer bound to God or Man the sovereign individual stands amidst his fellows cold, cruel, and alone; and, yet, in this solitude is attained that intimacy of communication such as was never attained under the dominion and tyranny of communal habit and custom.

(This post is already too long, but one will need to understand what Bataille meant by ‘intimacy’ to understand both the notions of sovereignty and communication. I’ll address that at some future time…)


  1. Paglia, Camille. Sexual Personae (p. 490). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Jeremy Biles (Editor), Kent L. Brintnall (Editor). Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion (Perspectives in Continental Philosophy). Fordham University Press; 1 edition (August 3, 2015)

Toward a Theory of the Fantastic


The fantastic disturbs, distorts, and disintegrates our personal and collective ideological filters, breaks the false real of our agential nightmares, the socio-cultural frames of reference that bind us to the tyranny of the real. The fantastic affords us a polysemous vision of the impossible possibilities opening out just beyond the closed temporalities of our encoded belief systems, cracking the false impositions of our darkened reasoning and logic: the orthodox order of things.  The fantastic folds us into those indefinite layers of the heterodox Real where all contradictions pierce us without resolution. Caught in this hall of mirrors we begin to see in the distorted fragments of its fantastic display neither agency or its collective distortions, but rather the alterity of that immanent world which lies in the gaps and cracks of the impossible Real. This act of positive provocation and withdrawal, a transgressive operation of dissolving the false world of our ideological prison, opens us to the unreal, beckoning us to break free. It is this opening activity which is disturbing, by denying the solidity of what had been taken to be real. Bataille has referred to this kind of infraction as ‘une déchirure’, a tear, or wound, laid open in the side of the real. Tearing ourselves from the false imprecations of our ideological cells we begin to totter on the edge of a mad realization, an unknowing that unbinds us from this world of violence by violence.

The fantastic is the poetics of freedom.

Walking

How many of us end up walking for miles everyday just to think, reflect, or allow our minds to relax into thought; shaking off the melancholy that grips us in a dark mood after troubling news, or from listening to various  melancholy tracks or the abyssal music of Black Metal? There is a long history of walking in thought and literature, one could gather a complete Book of Walking from collecting such fragments…

All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.

—Fredrich Nietzsche

In August 1992, when the dog days were drawing to an end, I set off to walk the county of Suffolk, in the hope of dispelling the emptiness that takes hold of me whenever I have completed a long stint of work.

—W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn

He didn’t leave the apartment until months after his sister’s marriage, transforming himself as it were from a sitter into a walker. In his best moments he would walk from the Kohlmarkt to the Twentieth District and from there to the Twenty-first through Leopoldstadt and back to the First, strolling for hours back and forth in the First until he couldn’t walk any farther. In the country he was virtually paralyzed. There he would barely walk a few steps to the woods. The country bores me, he said again and again. Glenn is right to call me the pavement walker, said Wertheimer, I only walk on pavement, I don’t walk in the country, it’s awfully boring and I stay in the hut.

—Thomas Bernhard, . The Loser: A Novel

Without considering this background of the city which became a decisive experience for the young Benjamin one can hardly understand why the flaneur became the key figure in his writings. The extent to which this strolling determined the pace of his thinking was perhaps most clearly revealed in the peculiarities of his gait, which Max Rychner described as “at once advancing and tarrying, a strange mixture of both.” It was the walk of a flaneur, and it was so striking because, like the dandy and the snob, the flaneur had his home in the nineteenth century, an age of security in which children of upper-middle-class families were assured of an income without having to work, so that they had no reason to hurry. And just as the city taught Benjamin flanerie, the nineteenth century’s secret style of walking and thinking, it naturally aroused in him a feeling for French literature as well, and this almost irrevocably estranged him from normal German intellectual life.

—Walter Benjamin, Illuminations

Thomas of Celano – Dies Irae

Written by Thomas of Celano in the thirteenth century, the hymn “Dies Irae” (“Day of Wrath”) is an unsettlingly beautiful work that became a part of the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass.

How I would love one day to see all people, young and old, sad or happy, men and women, married or not, serious or superficial leave their homes and their work places, relinquish their duties and responsibilities, gather in the streets and refuse to do anything anymore. At that moment, let slaves to senseless work, who have been toiling for future generations under the dire delusion that they contribute to the good of humanity, avenge themselves on the mediocrity of a sterile and insignificant life, on the tremendous waste that never permitted spiritual transfiguration. At that moment, when all faith and resignation are lost, let the trappings of ordinary life burst once and for all. Let those who suffer silently, not even uttering a sigh of complaint, yell with all their might, making a strange, menacing, dissonant clamor that would shake the earth. Let the waters flow faster and the mountains sway threateningly, the trees show their roots like an eternal and hideous reproach, the birds croak like ravens, and the animals scatter in fright and fall from exhaustion. Let ideals be declared void; beliefs, trifles; art, a lie; and philosophy, a joke. Let everything be climax and anticlimax. Let lumps of earth leap into the air and crumble in the wind; let plants make strange arabesques, frightful and distorted shapes, in the sky. Let wildfires spread rapidly and a terrifying noise drown out everything so that even the smallest animal would know that the end is near. Let all form become formless, and chaos swallow the structure of the world in a gigantic maelstrom. Let there be tremendous commotion and noise, terror, and explosion, and then let there be eternal silence and total forgetfulness. And in those final moments, let all that humanity has felt until now, hope, regret, love, despair, and hatred, explode with such force that nothing is left behind. 

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

On Agony: The Battle between Life and Death

The interpretation of agony as an ardor exalted by its own futility, or as a battle whose aim is itself, is absolutely false. In fact, agony means a battle between life and death. Since death is immanent in life, almost all of life is an agony. I call agonic only those dramatic moments in the battle between life and death when the presence of death is experienced consciously and painfully. True agony occurs when you pass into nothingness through death, when a feeling of weariness consumes you irrevocably and death wins. In every true agony there is a triumph of death, even though you may continue to live after those moments of weariness.

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

On the Literature of the Fantastic

The literature of the fantastic reveals to us that the everyday reality we’ve been taught to accept is built on a tissue of lies and delusion, that the cognitive spaces of reason and intellect revel in the mundane apprehension of fact beyond which the lock key prison of the Mind should not pass. The fantastic on the other hand opens the floodgates of the Real where the impossible takes on the power of imaginative need, breaking through the barriers of rational exclusion, revealing indirectly the missing regions of Being-in-becoming. If reason is the limit or horizon of the possible, then the affective will seduces us toward the impossible, unbinding intelligence in a creation that is continuous with imagination that affords the new objects that tantalize and surprise us. Unbinding intellect and intelligence from the phenomenological, while opening onto the nonphenomenological and nonconscious realms of existence through a disruption of our cognitive habits and reasoning allows us to access if only indirectly the regions of being and becoming that would otherwise impinge only on our lives as chaos. The fantastic is that mode of art and apprehension by way of abduction and discognition that opens up the affective and aesthetic worlds of nonintentional sentience which surrounds us on all sides as the unregistered Real.1


  1. Shaviro, Steven. Discognition. Repeater (April 19, 2016) 

Lafcadio Hearn: On Terrible Beauty

One of the first elements of the emotion to become clearly distinguishable is the æsthetic; and this, in its general mass, might be termed the sense of terrible beauty. Certainly the spectacle of that unfamiliar life,— silent, tremendous, springing to the sun in colossal aspiration, striving for light against Titans, and heedless of man in the gloom beneath as of a groping beetle,—thrills like the rhythm of some single marvellous verse that is learned in a glance and remembered forever. Yet the delight, even at its vividest, is shadowed by a queer disquiet. The aspect of that monstrous, pale, naked, smooth-stretching column suggests a life as conscious as the serpent’s. You stare at the towering lines of the shape,—vaguely fearing to discern some sign of stealthy movement, some beginning of undulation. Then sight and reason combine to correct the suspicion. Yes, motion is there, and life enormous—but a life seeking only sun,—life, rushing like the jet of a geyser, straight to the giant day.

—Lafcadio Hearn, Gothic Horror

 

Joseph Addison: The Taboo of the Veil

There is yet another explanation of the mystery surrounding this dread of the supernatural which may be worth considering. It may be that man has been endowed with this almost universal horror of the supernatural because he was not meant to peep behind the veil. It can hardly be doubted that mankind in general would not be doing their true work if they were perpetually engaged in efforts to lift that veil. For what purpose was the veil interposed if not to prevent such prying? But granted that it would be a hindrance to man’s development to traffic with the other world, or to learn too much about it at first hand, would not man be very likely to have developed a keen instinctive horror of any contact with the unseen world, just as many animals have an instinctive horror of plants that will injure them? Be that as it may, … why so many of us should be afraid of things which we know will, under no circumstances, do us bodily harm, and which most of us sincerely believe have no existence whatever, is in any case a very curious problem.

—Joseph Addison, The Spectator (The Dread of the Supernatural)

Nathan Ballingrud: Southern Gothic Horror

Nick’s mother used to say that they’d lost his father to the horses.

—Nathan Ballingrud, North American Lake Monsters

Something speaks to me from the stories of Nathan Ballingrud. Having been raised on the likes of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Conner, Carson McCullers, and other notables of that southern mien one gets a feel for the genuine article, and Ballingrud is just that – the real deal, a writer with a voice of his own and a vision that is both distinct and hinged to the swamp infested riddles of a regional world where the darkness seems almost natural.

With the exception of Native American lore, folklore, like language and literature, came to this country as part of the cultural baggage of the various waves of its settlers. In the South, its sources are mainly British, African, and French, with important admixtures of Spanish and German and touches of almost everything else. Ballingrud invents a folklore that is hinted at rather than drawing from overt sources, a lore of the weird and strange that permeates the Louisiana bayous and City of Lights, New Orleans like black water seeping into the wells of some lonely southern night.

Ballingrud says of himself,

I was born in Massachusetts in 1970, but spent most of my life in the South. I studied literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at the University of New Orleans. Among other things, I’ve been a cook on oil rigs and barges, a waiter, and a bartender in New Orleans.

His first book of short stories, and the one I’m reading at present is North American Lake Monsters, from Small Beer Press. He has won two Shirley Jackson Awards, and been shortlisted for the World Fantasy, British Fantasy, and Bram Stoker Awards. Not a small feat.

Reading him awakens the tremors below the belt, makes you remember things that might have been or will be. He has the touch, that ability to hit the nerve of strangeness in the natural that few of us even knew was there accept as an indefinable shadow surrounding our lives like the deadly eyeballs of a gator slinking out of the dark pools of some snake infested swamp.

Those of us who come from the south understand the  irony of lost causes and regrets for the loss of old ways. Southerners more than most feel this deep seated nostalgia for a world steeped in evil and mayhem, a realm where racism, war, and a sense of bitter-sweet history commingle with shame and guilt. Maybe its our dark history of racism that sticks to us like the stigmata of some ancient Biblical curse for which there are and can be no reparations. Some think we’re beyond redemption, while others still manifest the bullheaded pride of the old guard as if it were another country. Ballingrud seems to tap into this anxiety like a master marksman whose keen eyes know just where the target is but is subtle enough to take it slow and methodical rather than full-amped.

His writing is steeped in that colloquial speech that rings true, hinting at a certain pitch in the tongue and groove of southern style. A way of being and becoming that hints at things rather than revealing them in the stark light of a noon-day sun. If Flannery O’Conner could hit you over the head with an ideological sledgehammer filled with her own flavor of gnostic Catholicism, then Ballingrud takes the lower key and floats you in the swamps where you can meet death at eye level.

Now if you haven’t read Ballingrud yet then just stop right here for I’m going to reveal certain spoilers that are best left to the imagination…

S.S. – A Coming of Age Tale

Take his story S.S. which on the surface is a typical coming of age tale of a young man caught between familial romance and the surfeits of choosing his own way. Young Nick is scrawny and unkempt, lives with his broken down Mom who we discover by indirection is a woman with a very severe case of autosarcophagy  – a nice medical term for self-cannibalistic degradation. Of course Ballingrud handles this strange phenomenon with such delicacy and reserve that we only begin to understand just what is transpiring toward the end of the tale.

One can imagine a young man growing up in such an environment and what it might do to his psyche, the perversities of his world influenced by such horrorific nostrums. On the surface Nick seems to be as normal as Norma Bates seemed in Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho. Yet, we know something sinister is brewing just under the surface of the boy’s flesh as the story progresses.

Nick’s father unable to stomach the proclivities of his wife abandon’s his son and her at the age of four. The mother unable or unwilling to accept the truth and relate it to her son invests in a folkloric explanation that carries with it a sinister shadow,

Nick’s mother used to say that they’d lost his father to the horses.

Throughout his childhood, Nick thought that meant that he’d been killed by them: trampled beneath a galloping herd, or thrown from the back of a bronco; when he was younger still, he imagined that they’d devoured him, dipping their great regal heads into the open bowl of his body, lifting them out again trailing bright ropes and jellies. At night, when the closet door in his bedroom swung silently open, the boogeyman wore an equine face, and the sound that spilled from its mouth was the dolorous melody of his mother’s sobs. Even now that he knew better, knew that his father had fled in part because of gambling debts incurred at the track, horses retained their sinister aspect.1

One begins to suspect things are not going to go well for young Nick, that his life with a cannibal and a missing father will lead to nowhere good. Luckily for our young Nick he meets a girl name Trixie, a young feisty girl at the edge of womanhood whose world is filled with racial dreams of purity and tattooed knights from the beleaguered realms of fascist nationalists. The story is bedeviled by such stereotypes of male figures full of macho hostility toward losers, gays, and blacks. Yet, the tale itself has no axe to grind, no message or moral. It’s just a part of the world this young boy has been thrown into, a world he does not fit into, nor even condones.

Being poor and white trash our young Nick has lived out his childhood in a realm in a realm of darkness, his mother having quit work early on leaving them bankrupt and only affording what Nick’s father’s alimony check subtends. Nick seems to have an inkling of his loser-hood, and yet he takes it all in stride. Even his relationship with Trixie is accepted as a piece of luck, not something he ever deserved in his own right. But like all modern Eve’s she has a temptation he must not refuse if he is to win her heart.

Trixie belongs to a white nationalist group of thugs, a group of young boys who tattooed like confederate throwbacks channel their primal aggression against the world in epithets of stupidity and beer. Young Nick is persuaded to meet Trixie’s new friends and become a part of their club. Nick goes out with the boys to a local bar and is introduced to the racial politics of this strand by a over-muscled goon name Derrick who points the way to his dark tribes vein glorious stigmata,

He touched his fingers to a swastika on his chest. “You see this here? That’s what it means. That’s why we wear it on our skin. All that German secret police shit, forget all that. That was just one manifestation. We’re the new manifestation.” He tapped the symbol. “White family. White brotherhood. Now, sometimes you gotta do ugly things for the family’s sake. Just like me and Matt had to do. And you know what? Niggers and fags might not be the brightest creatures on this earth, but they can take a message if you deliver it right. I ain’t seen that boy back here since.” (ibid.)

Ballingrud doesn’t pull any punches, he lets the full tilt power of this hateful world emerge from the twisted minds of these young men as if it were the most natural thing in the world. When Derrick taunts young Nick with sexual antics and his scrawniness, telling him how he’s fucked Nick’s chick, Trixie, trying to get a rise out of him. Nick does. He tells Derrick to “Fuck Off!” and proceeds to leave them to their own dark bullshit.

Ballingrud isn’t preaching to us, rather he presents this sordid world matter-of-factly as if it were just another natural thing one comes upon, neither good or evil; something that just is – not big deal. Like I said he has no axe to grind. He’s a story teller, not a preacher man.

The next time he sees Trixie she wants to come over to his house, wants to level with him, pull him in, seduce him, break him like a horse. And, yet, there’s something about young Nick that even Trixie doesn’t understand, something even darker and more solitary that this wild young woman would fear to know if she had an intelligent brain in her head. Brash and full of vivacity she is like a wild cat, untamed and fierce; and, yet, she is oblivious to the deep moral issues within which she has ensnared her self. It’s this in-betweenness, this traveling between the ruins of the past and the challenge of the supposed new south that both these young people seem to be entangled in. But Trixie is blind to it and its seductions believing it is leading her into extreme forms of freedom when it is actually driving her into a past that haunts us all with it’s racist daemonism. On the other hand the shadows that seem to expand from Nick in every direction offer him a path into nowhere and nowhen, an atopia of the weird where he might find a separate freedom, a realm of darkness and mayhem all of his own, built not of past shame but out of the malevolent truth of his own dark nature.

Without retelling the whole story we’ll cut to the chase. Young Nick wants a gun, wants to use it, and he gets Trixie to do his bidding by finding it for him. Once he has it he senses something in his life, a certain freedom. He and Trixie take off on a road trip where they are involved in a catastrophic wreck that awakens something in young Nick. He’s seen a truck careen into a BMW spilling a beautiful white horse across the rock hard pavement. It’s this confrontation with the violence of the white horse whose guts and blood are splattered across the white hot surface that moves something in young Nick.

He opened the passenger door and climbed out into a cold brace of air. The rain was a frozen weight, soaking his clothes instantly. A confused array of lights speared through the rain, giving the scene a freakish radiance. He noticed that he was casting several shadows.

The horse’s big body jerked as it tried to right itself, and Nick heard bones crack somewhere inside it. The horse screamed. It lay next to the overturned car, amidst a glittering galaxy of broken glass, its legs crooked and snapped, its blood spilling onto the asphalt and trailing away in diluted rivers. It was beautiful, even in these awful circumstances; its body seemed phosphorescent in the rain.

Nick knelt beside it and brushed his fingers against its skin. The flesh jumped, and he was overwhelmed by a powerful scent of urine and musk. Its eye rolled to look at him. Nick stared back, paralyzed. The horse’s blood pooled around his shoe. It seemed an astonishing end for this animal, that it should come to die on some hard ground its ancestors never knew, surrounded by machines they never dreamed. Its absurdity offended him. (ibid.)

This sense of ‘freakish radiance’ and young Nick’s realization that he was “casting several shadows” brings that pitch of sublime horror and the ridiculous absurdity of  violence between an ancient world of freedom and horses, and a modernity where machinic impersonalism and death have no meaning, into a realm of seductive revelation where apocalyptic desire melts with the annihilation of terror and dread. It’s just here, in a world outside the order of things, caught in a violent tremor in-between his past and his future that he makes a decision. Trixie worried about the gun, the police, the world around her crumbling wants to run, to leave it all behind. Nick instead chooses something else, chooses his own freedom, a freedom from Trixie and her world of thuggish racism, from his Mother’s entrapments in a cage world of self-cannibalistic desire, and a world where beauty and death on a sun scorched highway can co-exist:

The gun. Nick brushed roughly past her, nearly knocking her to her knees. He retrieved the gun from her glove compartment and headed back to the horse. Trixie intercepted him, tried to push him back. “No, no, are you fucking crazy? It’s gonna die anyway!”

He wrenched her aside, and this time she did fall. He walked over to the horse and the gun cracked twice, two bright flashes in the rain, and the horse was dead. A kind of peace settled over him then, a floating calm, and he stuffed the gun into his trousers, ignoring the heat of the barrel pressing into his flesh. Trixie had not bothered to get up from the pavement. She sat there, watching him, the rain sluicing over her head and down her body. Her face was inscrutable behind the curtain of rain, as was everything else about her. He left her there.

Behind her, the car was hopelessly ensnared in the traffic jam. He would have to walk home, to his mother, broken and beautiful, crashed in her own foreign landscape. Bewildered and terrified. Burning love like a gasoline. He started down the highway, walking along the edge of stopped traffic. He felt the weightlessness of mercy. He was a striding christ. Sounds filtered through to him: people yelling and pleading; footsteps splashing through the rain; a distant, stranded siren. From somewhere behind him a man’s sob, weird and ululating, rose above the wreckage and disappeared into the sky, a flaming rag.

One is almost tempted to think of another dark Messiah heading down a dirt road toward a city carrying a new gospel of redemption through violence, an echo of Flannery O’Conner’s ‘Francis Marion Tarwater’,

His singed eyes, black in their deep sockets, seemed already to envision the fate that awaited him but he moved steadily on, his face set toward the dark city, where the children of God lay sleeping.1

To know more about Nathan and his works visit his blog: https://nathanballingrud.com/


  1. Ballingrud, Nathan. North American Lake Monsters. Small Beer Press. (June 28, 2013)
  2. O’Connor, Flannery. The Violent Bear It Away (Kindle Locations 2454-2455). Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Anna Laetitia Aikin (1743 – 1825): On The Pleasure Derived From Objects of Terror

Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity: such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and of dead bodies.

—Aristotle, Poetics

Anna Laetitia Aikin in her essay on the sublime of horror ‘On The Pleasure Derived From Objects of Terror‘ (1773) suggested we “rather choose to suffer the smart pang of a violent emotion than the uneasy craving of an unsatisfied desire”. She’d go on to say,

This is the pleasure constantly attached to the excitement of surprise from new and wonderful objects. A strange and unexpected event awakens the mind, and keeps in on the stretch; and where the agency of invisible beings is introduced, of “forms unseen, and mightier far than we,” our imagination, darting forth, explores with rapture the new world which is laid open to its view, and rejoices in the expansion of its powers. Passion and fancy co-operating elevate the soul to its highest pitch; and the pain of terror is lost in amazement.

Hence, the more wild, fanciful, and extraordinary are the circumstances of a scene of horror, the more pleasure we receive from it; and where they are too near common nature, though violently borne by curiosity through the adventure, we cannot repeat it or reflect on it, without an over-balance of pain.

This sense of what Lacan-Zizek  term ‘jouissance’ or the bitter-sweet pleasure/pain in apprehension of the  indefinable, unknown and horrific monstrosities of existence underlies the aesthetic appeal and active power of the fantastic over our Mind. The literature of terror, dread, and horror confront us with the cosmic power of an invasive alterity, an impossible and indefinite unknown and unknowable threat from the Outside that cannot be reduced to presence nor absence,  but is situated in that in-between zone of the impossible Real or Gap-Crack where chaos, madness, and darkness seep into our world.

The Study of Annihilation: On Suicide

To be, or not to be, that is the question : Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them ? To die, to sleep, No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep; To sleep! perchance to dream : ay, there’s the rub.

—Shakespeare, Hamlet, III, 1.

And often through fear of death men come to hate life and the sight of the sun so bitterly  that in a burst of grief they kill themselves, forgetting it was this fear that caused their cares, troubled their conscience, broke their bonds of friendship, and overturned all sense of decency.

Death, then, is nothing, concerns us not one bit, since the soul has proved to be a mortal thing.

—Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 

The Greek and Roman world thought of suicide as an heroic act, while for the most part Western Christendom saw it as a form of taboo punishable by eternal damnation etc.. Our modern secular age beginning with Durkheim has turned a critical eye onto this self-annihilation as a sociological phenomenon to be studied, while after Freud it became a part of the science of suicidology. There are so many theories as to why people take their own lives. Our strange and emotional religious or even rationalist heritages have reams of information surrounding this most intimate form of death. My father once he discovered he had cancer and less than three months to live came home one day and grabbed his shotgun out of the closet, sat down and drank most of a fifth of scotch, then proceeded to take his own life. I want go further… many literary poets, writers, artists, thinkers in recent decades have done the same. For we who survive such traumas of loved ones the question is always: Why? Why would they do such a thing? Isn’t life worth living to the bitter end? Or is suicide against the pain and suffering of a slow inevitable death the better course? I want even go into the belief systems of war and terrorist bombers, etc. I began gathering a list of books on such morbidity:

Emile Durkheim’s classic: On Suicide
Philippe Aries: The Hour of Our Death
Georges Minois: History of Suicide
Edwin Schniedman: An Autopsy of a Suicide
Ron Brown: The Art of Suicide
Marzio Barbagli: Farewell to the World
Susan Stefan: Rational Suicide, Irrational Laws
Sarah Perry: Every Cradle is a Grave
James R. Lewis: Sacred Suicide
Gary Lachman: Literary Suicides

Of course there are tons of other works, and one could discover in the philosophical history of suicide from Socrates enforced use of Hemlock to the recent death of Mark Fisher… questions, questions, questions… there’s even a whole literature devoted to publishing suicide notes. I think of Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton, John Berryman or James Wright… one could write a never-ending litany to suicide in our time… In the histories we discover that after the fact cultures have either promoted it or anathematized and criminalized it. Our secular age has tried to psychologize it into its own scientized discourses as a disease of the mind, etc. I doubt the one’s who actually go down that path have an answer beyond the need to escape a certain hellish existence that has become too unbearable whether mentally or physically. Most of the literature on it is for survivors, not the perpetrators of the act.

In my own mind as I grow older and the gravitas of existence wears my body into dust I begin to think through such options… to be, or not to be: that truly is the question; and, one I will sooner or later have to face in extremis. Of course we can as well work through the positive and negative literature, weigh all the options as if one were meting out gold on the scales of Maat (the Egyptian goddess of life/death), else leave the option on the table of indefinable solutions – a sort of one-off Dadaist movement of imaginary solutions to indefinable problems. Comic or tragic, a choice of styles in mental hygiene; or, pragmatic resolution to the disruption of existence itself. There probably is no justification either way, and like all criminal acts it is done in solitude against the social milieu or its habituated judgments. Each of us faces death alone and in solitude, whether we have others surrounding us or not. For millennia we as cultural creatures built up grand narratives and traditions to stage this movement and transition out of existence. In the secular age the myth turned to annihilation, or a blank pit of nothingness; the meaningless end of a meaningless life in a universe of self-destructive energy turned bitter cold in the zero wastes of utter darkness. Who can say which is better? The religious comfort of hopeful illusions of paradisial realms of eternal life, or the extreme annihilation offered by the secular priests of atheism where death is a dreamless sleep of eternity. No one has returned to offer an opinion one way or the other…

The Order of the Unreal

That we all deserve punishment by horror is as mystifying as it is undeniable. To be an accomplice, however involuntarily, in a reasonless non-reality is cause enough for the harshest sentencing. But we have been trained so well to accept the “order” of an unreal world that we do not rebel against it. How could we? Where pain and pleasure form a corrupt alliance against us, paradise and hell are merely different divisions in the same monstrous bureaucracy. And between these two poles exists everything we know or can ever know. It is not even possible to imagine a utopia, earthly or otherwise, that can stand up under the mildest criticism. But one must take into account the shocking fact that we live on a world that spins. After considering this truth, nothing should come as a surprise.

Still, on rare occasions we do overcome hopelessness or velleity and make mutinous demands to live in a real world, one that is at least episodically ordered to our advantage. But perhaps it is only a demon of some kind that moves us to such idle insubordination, the more so to aggravate our condition in the unreal. After all, is it not wondrous that we are allowed to be both witnesses and victims of the sepulchral pomp of wasting tissue? And one thing we know is real: horror. It is so real, in fact, that we cannot be sure it could not exist without us. Yes, it needs our imaginations and our consciousness, but it does not ask or require our consent to use them. Indeed, horror operates with complete autonomy. Generating ontological havoc, it is mephitic foam upon which our lives merely float. And, ultimately, we must face up to it: Horror is more real than we are.

—Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (p. 182).

Schopenhauer: The Mistake of Life

That human life must be a kind of mistake is sufficiently clear from the fact that man is a compound of needs, which are difficult to satisfy; moreover, if they are satisfied, all he is granted is a state of painlessness, in which he can only give himself up to boredom. This is a precise proof that existence in itself has no value, since boredom is merely the feeling of the emptiness of life. If, for instance, life, the longing for which constitutes our very being, had in itself any positive and real value, boredom could not exist; mere existence in itself would supply us with everything, and therefore satisfy us. But our existence would not be a joyous thing unless we were striving after something; distance and obstacles to be overcome then represent our aim as something that would satisfy us–an illusion which vanishes when our aim has been attained; or when we are engaged in something that is of a purely intellectual nature, when, in reality, we have retired from the world, so that we may observe it from the outside, like spectators at a theatre. Even sensual pleasure itself is nothing but a continual striving, which ceases directly its aim is attained. As soon as we are not engaged in one of these two ways, but thrown back on existence itself, we are convinced of the emptiness and worthlessness of it; and this it is we call boredom. That innate and ineradicable craving for what is out of the common proves how glad we are to have the natural and tedious course of things interrupted. Even the pomp and splendour of the rich in their stately castles is at bottom nothing but a futile attempt to escape the very essence of existence, misery.

Arthur Schopenhauer,  The Collected Essays

Incompleteness and the Void

…from the standpoint of the incompleteness of reality, we can even make a step further and claim that, at the very bottom, there is all the room we want, since there is nothing else there, just the void.

Slavoj Zizek,  Less Than Nothing

Truth is neither relative nor not, it is part of a cultural evaluation, a shared or consensus datum; whereas fact is just there, neither truthful nor a lie: it just is – it is outside cultural appraisal and its linguistic tremors. Take quantum physics… it is incomplete, it has taken us into the limits of macro-micro physics where our instruments cannot go further at the moment… after the failure of instruments comes theory: mathematical theorems that invent the possibility of reality, then test the theory against the facts we have or the missing facts we do not (i.e., dark matter, dark energy, etc. – all metaphors for the missing matter and energy our instruments fail to discover, but that our current mathematical models say should be there, etc.)…. but not all the facts are in yet. As humans we may always fail because our brain being an evolutionary product of kludgy millennia was constructed bit by bit to help our organism to survive and propagate, not to understand itself or the cosmos. We are limited by this process so we produce nice little fictions and call them truth to assuage our less than adequate knowledge of the universe and ourselves.

Every generation solidifies and codifies reality into its current matrix of linguistic insights as part of its cultural power and politics. On a planet such as ours we are in the midst of a chaotic reevaluation of those truths that have guided the multiplex of cultures across the millennia. In this age old conflict of ideas and concepts there will be in some future yet to be determined a partial resolution and the emergence of a truly intelligent global culture that will not be a unity or One, but will incorporate the best and most inventive ideas and concepts into a new order of collaboration and consensus. Not all will agree with it as none do now, but it will shape the direction of our fallible projects in the sciences and arts as it has in the past. That is if we survive the war of ideas in our time without obliterating ourselves.

Some would have us believe that Intelligence is emerging out of its organic cradle and into some as yet to be known form, whether into a new substrate or part of the collective intelligence of human and machinic phylum’s. The sciences and philosophies surrounding this emergence reduce it to various forms of post-humanist thought. It’s this battle over posthumanism that is at the forefront of current debates in the academy as elsewhere. Humanity as we’ve come to know it through the various traditions of humanism, both secular and religious is in the offing. The slow and methodical deconstruction and destruction of the humanist credos has since the Enlightenment and its offshoots in secular modernity been eroding to the point that in our time we are in the midst of a sea-change in thought and culture across our planet. We loosely use terms like post-modernity, post-humanism, etc. because we lack the intellectual courage or breadth of inventiveness to define what comes next, but instead we haggle over our intellectual heritage and milieu as if it were a great cock fight full of bloody campaigns. The sciences as well as philosophy have come under scrutiny and both have been found wanting, the one offering only the empirical and pragmatic truth of what works; the other the eternal war of ideas without end. There can be no victors in such a vein war of contrition, only losers.

We are all caught in the grips of cognitive biases we barely understand, and for the most part do not admit to ourselves. We all live by certain enabling fictions which guide our thought and life, we can do no other; some promote life, some death; some harbor fanatical claims against the world in forms of literalistic compulsions and mandates that have lead many astray and into wars. Our leaders use our emotional connections to certain deep seated ideas, images, and concepts to attract us and sway us into conflict. Even our political spectrum is a world of absolute antagonism and war over ideas and reality. Maybe this will never end, or will end only when humanity is no more. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Will we ever discover how to live among each others cultural worlds without hate and death; or, are we condemned to continual annihilation of any and all who do not agree with our ideas. The great cynics tell us we are doomed to defeat, that we will never produce a world in which humans can share equitably the fruits of mind and earth alike. I do no know, do you? Maybe in the end we stand between the incompleteness of the universe and the silence of the Void. That is all. No answer, no justification; only the incomprehensible mystery.

I’ve often thought that the incursions of all the radical madness in our culture: ghost hunter craze, Alien conspiracies, mass killings, suicides, strange cults, etc. are registering a sea-change in the underpsyche of the planet that barely goes noticed in the elite-o-sphere of mediatainment, unless we think of all the craze for disaster movies, zombies, superhero comic theatre, etc. We seem to be undergoing a mutation by enforced futurial retrocausation that is pushing us to the limits of our human potential for fear, terror, and horror. Soon we will see the cracks in the Real begin to unravel allowing the access to portals between mental regimes, movements between multidimensional time-frames in which the imaginal and the psychotic reveal the underlying mechanisms of our universal decay and metamorphosis. For as many have suggested we are in a duo process of acceleration/deceleration on different planes of immanence: the zigzag rhizome of our psyches is speeding up (heating up), and slowing down in various modes of time loops, registering the impact of this incursion from the Outside in. All the while the so called Orthodox realist controllers try their best to screen out this process through a massive propaganda system of denial and reterritorialization (D&G). And, yet, around the edges of their system the heterodox truth is breaking through… the unraveling/deterritorialization of two-thousand years of the monotheistic unity of religious and philosophical vision is ending… what comes next is anyone’s surmise.

The Subtraction of Being

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

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

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

—Mark Fisher,  The Weird and the Eerie

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

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

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

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

Broken Worlds

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

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

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

A Sum of Shadows

Each of us comes across certain thinkers who put into words things that people think and want to hear, but are either unable to articulate or unwilling to admit to. Most of the time as these thoughts penetrate our sleeping mind we believe the author has stolen them from our own private menagerie of twisted being, not realizing that thought, all thought, is a collective enterprise; and, in the moment we realize that another has already thought our thoughts, articulated the form of our mental dementia, clarified the desperation of our dark transports then, and only then, do we realize we do not exist. Only thought exists, and it exists without us or our miserabilist opinions to the contrary. We even begin to hate the one who awakened us to reality, to our own reality; this emptied vastation we call our lives. Failure is the sum of this realization: that another has lived out the thoughts we could not attempt nor invent for ourselves.

We are not the sum of our thoughts, we are only the shadows of other’s inventions.

William James: Our civilization is founded on shambles…

The normal process of life contains moments as bad as any which insane melancholy is filled with, moments in which radical evil gets its innings and takes its solid turn. The lunatic’s visions of horror are all drawn from the material of daily fact. Our civilization is founded on shambles, and every individual existence goes out in a lonely spasm of  helpless agony. If you protest, my friend, wait until you arrive there yourself.

—William James, Varieties of Religious Experience

Georges Bataille on Evil

Bataille On William Blake, Evil, and Energy:

Has the human being ever, for a single second, been able to discover an expression of liberty which rises above misery? In an eloquent world where logic reduces each thing to a certain order, William Blake spoke, on his own, the language of the Bible or the Vedas. By so doing he managed to restore life to original energy. So the truth of Evil which is essentially a rejection of subservience, is his truth. He is one of us, singing in the tavern and laughing with the children. He is never a ‘sad sire’, moralising and rational, who looks after himself and his money and slowly yields to the sadness of logic, without energy.

The moralist condemns the energy which he lacks. There is no doubt that humanity had to go through this phase. How could it survive if it had not denounced an excess of energy, if the very number of those who lacked energy had not brought those who had too much of it to their senses? But the necessity of adapting oneself ultimately demands a return to innocence. The marvellous indifference and childishness of William Blake, his feeling of ease when confronted with the impossible, his anguish which left boldness intact, all his defects and qualities were the expression of a simpler age and marked a return to lost innocence. Even a paradoxical form of Christianity can serve to indicate this; he is the only man to have seized with both hands, from two extremes, the roundabout of all times. Everything within him came to a halt before the necessity which entails laborious activity in a factory. He could not reply to the cold face animated by the pleasure of discipline. This sage, whose wisdom was close to folly, who was never disheartened by the work on which his liberty depended, did not have the self-effacement of those who ‘understand’, who surrender, renouncing victory. His energy rejected concessions to the spirit of work. His writings have a festive turbulence which gives the feelings he expressed a sense of laughter and liberty run loose. He never pursed his lips. The horror of his mythological poems is there to liberate us, not to flatten us: it reveals the great momentum of the universe. It calls for energy, never for depression.

– Georges Bataille, Literature and Evil

Antonin Artaud: I Am Not In This World

The reader must believe in a genuine sickness, not just a phenomenon of the times, in a sickness which is near to the nature of man and his main expressive potential and applicable to a whole life. A sickness affecting the soul in its most profound reality, poisoning its expression. Spiritual poison. Genuine paralysis. Sickness robbing us of speech and memory, and uprooting thought.

Where then does this sickness stem from, is it really something in the spirit of the times, a miracle floating in the air, an evil cosmic prodigy or the discovery of a new world, a genuine extension of reality? Nevertheless it is still true they do not suffer and I do, not only mentally but physically, in my everyday soul. This lack of application to an object, a characteristic of all literature, is a lack of application to life in my case. Speaking for myself, I can honestly say I am not in this world…

– Antonin Artaud: Vol 1 Collected Works

Polaroid Apocalypse: On Simon Sellars’ Applied Ballardianism

‘Human memory is a vast continent that we are yet to explore in full, although we know a little more about how it works than yesterday. We used to think memory was like a tape recorder that accurately recorded sensory inputs. Now we know memory is in fact much more plastic, much more malleable, and can be erased and rewritten over and over by anyone with access to the neural circuits. Given your unhealthy penchant for viewing your life only in terms of movie references, I can guess what you’re thinking. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, right? But that is just a science fiction film, nothing more. This is reality.’

Simon Sellars,  Applied Ballardianism: Memoir From a Parallel Universe

In Simon Sellars novel the ‘Applied Ballardianism‘ of the title is a misnomer, rather than Ballard’s strange and equivocal survisions being applied to the life of this author or his anti-hero we are given a parallax vision that oscillates between self-laceration and self-diagnosis, a memoir in the sense of fragmentation – slow unraveling of obsessions that parallel the cultural demolition ongoing across the planetary mindscapes. With each vignette we are given an irreal glance of the Real, a cathartic portrayal of our global crash culture. To enter Simon’s narrative is to undergo a mutation, to become the thing one most fears, neither a victim nor a perpetrator of the horrors of modernity, but instead an instigator of a collective metamorphosis that entails total and absolute psychosis. The work does not mirror the world as much as it is the inscape of our dark transports, the shape of futurial becomings that are the very core of our inhuman transformation.

Ballard’s obsession with car parks and the endless loop of presentism (our fall into a timeless abyss of NOWS that is also a space of obscene sameness: extreme culture as a society without a future, living out its nightmares as quotidian reality) reminds us of the banality of our lives, the slow and methodical deconstruction of the human into the machinic phylum as we enter the last stages of the human extinction. Ballard like a modern shaman or psychonaut delivered his parables of our transit to oblivion – a travelogue of the world slowly vanishing under its own weight and inanity, giving us in his short stories and novels a grand tour of hell without a Virgil. In Sellar’s work the inner core of Ballard’s inscapes has moved further into the dysfunctional rhythm of Ballard’s vision, taken a detour along the futurial demarcations of civilizational collapse.

As one begins to read Sellar’s new novel one realizes what Kant must’ve meant by the “transcendental illusion,” the illusion of being able to use the same language for phenomena which are mutually untranslatable and can be grasped only in a kind of parallax view, constantly shifting perspective between two points between which no synthesis or mediation is possible.1 The Anti-Hero of Sellar’s novel seems to oscillate between the eroding reality of his own collapsing life and mind and the inscapes of Ballard’s fictional worlds without fusing them into some artificial whole or critical apparatus, rather he keeps the two worlds moving through a kaleidescope of shifting scenarios testing the validity of Ballard’s vision against the crumbling and decaying world of the protagonists own unraveling psychosis.
Sellar’s in his preface to Ballard’s interviews tells us:

Ballard was never comfortable defining his place within the canon, and had little time for contemporary literature, which he saw as stuck in the mode of the nineteenth-century ‘social novel’, unwilling or unable to confront the fragmented subjectivities induced by the new media landscape. In contrast, his stories and novels present psychosociological case studies, based on highly skilled readings of real-world trends in culture, consumerism, technology and media. Frequently, this predictive charge was fomented in the interview situation, a kind of philosophical ‘laboratory’ where he could test ideas, opinions and observations, and later smuggle them into the airlocked worlds of his fiction.

In this sense the protagonist memoirist of Sellar’s novel will follow the pattern and read the world through the lens of a Ballardian inner surcapes – the lucidity of surrealism and pop-art modes, providing a series of vignettes each of which becomes a laboratory of psychosis where ideas, opinions and observations are not so much tested as suffered as if the unraveling context of the author’s mind were reduplicating the fictional cosmos of Ballard as the terminus of a new kind of psychic journey. The operative signals of each vignette reprogramming both reader and author alike to become a participant in a world parallel to our own without falling into the temptations of literalism. If our lives are fictional then we begin to understand that the insanity around us is part of misconstrued narrative whose author left the scene of the crime long ago, and the detectives who are piecing together the details of this murderous tale are in truth ourselves.

As we comprehend our part in the manufacture of this psychotic world we begin to remake the world not so much in our own image as to expose our own part in its destruction. Commenting on the inhabitants of modern Japan (Saipan) Sellars’s memoirist offers a tepid observation: “Perhaps in time they too would secede from the outside world, scavenging the remains of the old order, forever ready for the empty horizon where they would be free to test and refine the limits of their humanity.” One needs to understand the irony of this statement, the wishful thinking on the part of the protagonist, his desperate attempt to stave off the temporal calamity of our present collapse into cultural insanity knowing all along that the world will never gain the critical density nor distance to “secede” from its own ruinous inner spaces.

Doomed to explore the last dregs of our inner landscapes through the outer universe of decay and ruination we will forever follow each other into the wastelands, where like the character in Ballard’s short story End-Game we come to know the “ironic inversion of the classical Kafkaesque situation, by which, instead of admitting his guilt to a non-existent crime, he was forced to connive in a farce maintaining his innocence of offences he knew full well he had committed…”.3 In the end we will maintain the lie (fiction) that we are innocent of our participation in the decline and fall of the human into is own ironic exclusion and effacement, duplicitous and accusatory we will blindly rehearse our small apocalypses as if they were preludes to a cinematic eclipse of Man rather than the actual and real destruction of the earth and its life support systems.

Awaiting our own execution we will act like Constantine in that same story with its sense of guiltlessness that pervades our own apocalypticism:

The psychological basis was more obscure but in some way far more threatening, the executioner beckoning his victim towards him with a beguiling smile, reassuring him that all was forgiven. Here he played upon, not those unconscious feelings of anxiety and guilt, but that innate conviction of individual survival, that obsessive preoccupation with personal immortality which is merely a disguised form of the universal fear of the image of one’s own death. It was this assurance that all was well, and the absence of any charges of guilt or responsibility, which had made so orderly the queues into the gas chambers.(p. 507)

Speaking to our apocalypticism our memoirist remembers Ballard’s fascination with the nuclear era and other dire events. Asked in an interview about his novella ‘The Ultimate City’ if it signaled a “certain relish for decay”, Ballard denied the charge, “suggesting that instead it signifies potential”. Going on to say,

The boy, he explains, is ‘trying to recapture something of the dynamism, aggression and freedom for the imagination to soar that was so lacking in the small rural town where he was brought up … The city is abandoned, and with it, suspended in time, is a whole set of formulae for expressing human energy, imagination, ambition. The clock has stopped, but it will be possible for the boy to start it up again.’

This principle of evil underlying Ballard’s vision shades into both Gorges Bataille and Jean Baudrillard’s vision of the dynamism, aggression and freedom at the core of evil, an evil beyond the moral categories, more ontologically transgressive and transparent. Bataille in his Literature and Evil commenting on the English poet William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell whose lines on energy quicken us to life through the power of evil: “Energy is the only life, and is from the Body; and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy. Energy is Eternal Delight.”4 Bataille commenting on this states: “William Blake’s sensuality was very different from that subterfuge which denies true sensuality by seeing it solely as health. Blake’s sensuality was on the side of Energy, which is Evil, which restores it to its deepest significance. If nakedness is the work of God – if the lust of the goat is His bounty – it is the wisdom of Hell that heralds this truth.” Baudrillard following Bataille – and, even Mark Fisher’s ‘No Future’ paradigm – states that those seeking peace and stability in the world order are fabricating their own demise:

The aim of this world order is the definitive non-occurrence of events. It is, in a sense, the end of history, not on the basis of a democratic fulfillment, as Fukuyama has it, on the basis of preventive terror, of a counter-terror that puts an end to any possible events. A terror which the power exerting it ends up exerting on itself under the banner of security. There is a fierce irony here: the irony of an anti-terrorist world system that ends up internalizing terror, inflicting it on itself and emptying itself of any political substance and going so far as to turn on its own population.

This sense of the innocence of evil, that it not good is the normalcy of the world is reiterated in the Maenadic scene in Ballard’s High Rise in which the murder of an architect whose very games have brought about the destruction of a complex society of doctors, lawyers, advertising agents, scientists, artists, etc.; all part of a highly sophisticated architectural monstrosity, a skyscraper community self-imploding into ancient tribalism. In a scene much like the tearing of flesh and life of Dionysus by the Maenads (”raving ones”) we find the architect dead of knife wounds inflicted by the craze females of this sky clan community. One of the men of the decaying world of this hypermodern complex comes upon the scene, finds the architect dead, and the women:

In front of him the children in the sculpture-garden were playing with bones. The circle of women drew closer. The first flames lifted from the fire, the varnish of the antique chairs crackling swiftly. From behind their sunglasses the women were looking intently at Wilder, as if reminded that their hard work had given them a strong appetite. Together, each removed something from the deep pocket of her apron. In their bloodied hands they carried knives with narrow blades. Shy but happy now, Wilder tottered across the roof to meet his new mothers.6

Ballard’s almost matter-of-fact documentary style presents this chaotic scene as the new normalcy, a perverse world in which evil is accepted as the new good, a realm where the mimetic sacrifice of one god gives birth to another. In section sixty-six of Sellar’s novel the memoirist will give us his take on High Rise,

The circumstances that gave rise to their rampage were presaged in High-Rise, in which a man named Wilder attempts to record the building’s descent into anarchy with his all-seeing ‘cine-camera’. Proud of his working-class roots, he dreams of making a documentary of the social workings of the high-rise, but as violence takes hold and tribal warfare pits floor against floor, the camera is broken in a skirmish without having recorded a frame. Yet he continues to carry it with him, gripping it like a weapon. Wilder is obsessed with the idea that everything must be recorded in visual terms, even if the actual act of recording is a mere illusion invested in a broken-down piece of equipment. Violently catalysing the savage events, Wilder deliberately drowns a resident’s dog, triggering the chaos to come. As the building succumbs to total savagery and people are brutally killed all around him (sometimes by his own hand), his only thought is to capture the madness on film, ostensibly as part of a documentary he’s making on the building, although his real motivation is the deep-seated need to fulfil his own ‘personal biography’. He wants to capture a record of his ascent through the high-rise from the lower floors where he lives to the architect’s opulent penthouse, shaming those he feels inferior to along the way: his neighbours, members of the hated middle class.

Our latter day narcissism has extended this perverse need for fulfilling our own ‘personal biographies’ through the selfie culture of endless takes and retakes of images of images of images which no longer have the consistency of bodies in space and time, but have become free-floating artifacts disconnected from the flesh and blood reality of the Real traveling in the virtual realms of re-duplicated proliferation and multiplicity. This sense of sensuality in a vacuum harbors our transformation of sex into a new kind of pornographic violence. It was the impact of the image revolution that was always at the core of Ballard’s vision. One thinks of the late story or novella ‘Runnig Wild’ in which a massacre of a village has taken place. In a village that is completely self-regulated by media, a world in which everyone watches everyone 24/7, a site in which everything has become transparent; i.e., evil. What we discover is that in a world where no secrets can be found, where love is the order of the encoded regulatory scheme, that the children have begun to rebel. Ultimately their rebellion against all this openness, transparency, and absolute surveillance society becomes the motive for a mass massacre of the parents. As the commentator who has covered the sordid affair relates it:

My own view is that far from being an event of huge significance for the children, the murder of their parents was a matter of comparative unimportance. I believe that the actual murders were no more than a final postscript to a process of withdrawal from the external world that had begun many months beforehand, if not years. As with the Hungerford killer, Michael Ryan, or the numerous American examples of crazed gunmen opening fire on passersby, the identity of the victims probably had no special significance for them. More than this, I would argue that for such killings to take place at all, the deaths of their victims must be without any meaning.7

This sense of absolute nihil, the unbounded withdrawal from the parental world of meaning and comfort has produced in the children the psychotic hypernormalization of disaffective revenge. The children who in the novella escape detection from the screen world of video replays and endless media appropriation have become screenless and imageless, their lives no longer attached to the parental clock-work world of fixed and static televisual normalcy have entered instead a non-world where the inhuman fractures of a machinic phylum seep through into their dark psyches. In section seventy-seven of Sellar’s novel the memoirist relates ironically on the ‘Solace of Dystopia’:

I found a newspaper next to a discarded egg-and-salad sandwich. On the front page was a story about the installation of talking CCTV cameras across Britain. The cameras had loudspeakers that could shout at anyone engaging in anti-social behaviour, and competitions were being held at schools for kids to become the voice of CCTV, because the sound of a child’s voice was thought less likely to encounter resistance. Aside from the obvious Orwellianism of surveillance that talks, the idea of children shaming adults, enabled by the Surveillance State, is purely Ballardian. In Ballard’s novella Running Wild, CCTV enables children not only to shame adults but to slaughter them wholesale. In an exclusive gated community, the children that live there use surveillance to communicate with each other and evade detection by outsiders, prior to enacting their unmotivated plan to kill all the adults and disappear en masse off the face of the earth.
How did the saying go?
Our children are the future.

Later on Simon’s memoirist will ask: “Where to hide when everything is visible?” This sense that the supposed surveillance society we are creating with its ultra-transparency is producing a world without humans, a world that is a 24/7 inscape of images of images, clones of clones, a re-duplicated world of inhuman transparency to which there is no longer any escape; or, as the memoirist tells it:

Until I understood.
There is no way home.
There never really was.

In the end Simon’s protagonist is defeated by the logic of our psychopathic times, realizing that no one can overcome the insanity, and that we are all condemned in the end to our isolated cells:

I wanted a new metanarrative to emerge, one that could shed light on Ballard’s secret intent, a metanarrative taking place within a fake space capsule that becomes a human slaughterhouse filled with sexually advanced astronauts and presided over by a suicidal goddess figure. But I could not find the glue that would link it all together, having tried every available technique. …

As I sat in my apartment among the detritus of my insanity, overwhelmed by the debris of torn paper and discarded similes covering the floor, which resembled nothing so much as the accumulated junkspace from the edgelands I’d spent so much time in, I realised that all I’d managed to print out was a broken encephalogram of my decaying self.

Maybe in the end that is all any of us is left with, this sense of death and decay permeating every square inch of our lives, the notion of our media-infested lives as mere blips on a faded screen, wired by automatic scripts and algorithms we proliferate the redundancies of our shop worn ideas in an endless parade of failures.

‘We are our psychic wounds. Take away the wounds and you take away the self.’ Says the memoirist.

Without a body, without pain and touch and the actual sensual registers of an embodied consciousness we are mere images among images.

As the memoirist in a final take states:

“I yearned to rejoin my physical self, to stop drifting in and out of phase, and once I’d made that resolution the mental Polaroids stopped.”


  1. Žižek, Slavoj. The Parallax View. The MIT Press (February 13, 2009)
  2. Ballard, J.G; Sellars, Simon; O’Hara, Dan. Extreme Metaphors (Kindle Locations 112-116). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
  3. Ballard, J. G.. The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard (p. 507). Norton. Kindle Edition.
  4. Bataille, Georges. Literature and Evil (Penguin Modern Classics) (Kindle Locations 913-915). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
  5. Baudrillard, Jean. The Intelligence of Evil. Bloomsbury Academic; Reprint edition (June 27, 2013)
  6. Ballard, J. G.. High-Rise: A Novel (p. 201). Liveright. Kindle Edition.
  7.  J G Ballard. Running Wild (Kindle Locations 703-707).