David Foster Wallace: Waking to Darkness and Lightning

I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition, that this goodly frame the earth seems to me a stale promontory, this most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why it appeareth nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors.


Depression is no laughing matter, is it? It eats up life like a black hole that has no bounds. It sucks the life force out of even the happiest of beings. Someone once said that happiness is a state of mind. Milton said: “The mind is its own place, and in it self / Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” How do we survive in a wasteland of our own making? Samuel Beckett once told us that “nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that. Yes, yes, it’s the most  comical thing in the world (Endgame).”   Someone asked Ken Bruen, the Galwegian Crime Writer: “How do you define humor?” His response to this was: “It’s our way of getting even.” Maybe that’s the key. Maybe that’s the only way we can confront our despair of existence – the darkness within and without. Getting even. Laughing till the pain and bleakness disappear under the burden of darkness. As David Foster Wallace says it: “You are a trained observer and there is nothing to observe” (The Pale King). That’s DFW to a tee. A man all guzzied up ready to take on the whole world who realizes at the last moment that the world he’d take on resides in his own brain pan all curled up like the Cheshire cat winking back at him with the feint smile and gnomic wisdom of a Dostoevskian idiot. A gentle giant of a man whose compassion and passion gave us the Infinite Jest.

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Kurt Vonnegut: A Homage

My country is in ruins. So I’m a fish in a poisoned fish bowl. I’m mostly just heartsick about this. There should have been hope. This should have been a great country. But we are despised all over the world now. I was hoping to build a country and add to its literature. That’s why I served in World War II, and that’s why I wrote books.

– Kurt Vonnegut, The Last Interview: And Other Conversations

Along with Stanislaw Lem, Philip K. Dick, and J.G. Ballard the fourth Musketeer in my pantheon of authors is Kurt Vonnegut who awakened me from my own long sleep in ideological Slumberville. My gang of four troubadours taught me an alternate mode of existence, they challenged me every step of the way to question everything, to trust nothing more than the truth of my own life. If Diogenes were alive today he’d have called these men friends, he would’ve known them as the creatures they are: intelligent, fierce, and full of that unique ability to care about the creatureliness of all creatures on this good earth.

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J.G. Ballard: The Fragile World

I felt strongly, and still do, that psychoanalysis and surrealism were a key to the truth about existence and the human personality, and also a key to myself.

– J. G. Ballard,  Miracles of Life

Ballard enters one’s blood like a virus that is forever replicating its noxious programs in the neuronal filaments of the mind. As a young man I came upon his stories of bleak Martian landscapes where the voice of Ballard drifts over the alien world revealing a history of past atrocities in such allusive poetic elegance that one is almost tempted to forget the dark truth it presents:

At the Martian polar caps, where the original water vapour in the atmosphere had condensed, a residue of ancient organic matter formed the top-soil, a fine sandy loess containing the fossilized spores of the giant lichens and mosses which had been the last living organisms on the planet millions of years earlier. Embedded in these spores were the crystal lattices of the viruses which had once preyed on the plants, and traces of these were carried back to Earth with the Canaveral and Caspian ballast (366).1

In such passages Ballard offers the keen eye of a scientific naturalist with the caustic yet elliptic truth of a deadly but visible underworld of viruses that will bring to the homeworld of earth not an Edenic  resurrection of ancient life forms but instead the merciless agents of its own final apocalypse. At the end of this bleak tale Bridgeman one of the few who never left earth for the great adventure looks out on a sea of black obsidian dust, the plenum of the viral infestation that has now turned the homeworld into one giant desert:

He watched the pall disappear over the sea, then looked around at the other remnants of Merril’s capsule scattered over the slopes. High in the western night, between Pegasus and Cygnus, shone the distant disc of the planet Mars, which for both himself and the dead astronaut had served for so long as a symbol of unattained ambition. The wind stirred softly through the sand, cooling this replica of the planet which lay passively around him, and at last he understood why he had come to the beach and been unable to leave it. (372)

He didn’t need to leave it, Mars had come to earth with a vengeance.

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Old Bill Lee: Sultan of Sewers

The Socco Chico is the meeting place, the nerve center, the switchboard of Tangier. Practically everyone in town shows there once a day at least. Many residents of Tangier spend most of their waking hours in the Socco. On all sides you see men washed up here in hopeless, dead-end situations, waiting for job offers, acceptance checks, visas, permits that will never come. All their lives they have drifted with an unlucky current, always taking the wrong turn. Here they are. This is it. Last stop: the Socco Chico of Tangier.

The market of psychic exchange is as glutted as the shops. A nightmare feeling of stasis permeates the Socco, like nothing can happen, nothing can change. Conversations disintegrate in cosmic inanity. People sit at café tables, silent and separate as stones. No other relation than physical closeness is possible. Economic laws, untouched by any human factor, evolve equations of ultimate stasis. Someday the young Spaniards in gabardine trench coats talking about soccer, the Arab guides and hustlers pitching pennies and smoking their kief pipes, the perverts sitting in front of the cafés looking over the boys, the boys parading past, the mooches and pimps and smugglers and money changers, will be frozen forever in a final, meaningless posture.

Futility seems to have gained a new dimension in the Socco. Sitting at a café table, listening to some “proposition,” I would suddenly realize that the other was telling a fairy story to a child, the child inside himself: pathetic fantasies of smuggling, of trafficking in diamonds, drugs, guns, of starting nightclubs, bowling alleys, travel agencies. Or sometimes there was nothing wrong with the idea, except it would never be put into practice—the crisp, confident voice, the decisive gestures, in shocking contrast to the dead, hopeless eyes, drooping shoulders, clothes beyond mending, now allowed to disintegrate undisturbed.

Some of these men have ability and intelligence, like Brinton, who writes obscene novels and exists on a small income. He undoubtedly has talent, but his work is hopelessly unsalable. He has intelligence, the rare ability to see relations between disparate factors, to coordinate data, but he moves through life like a phantom, never able to find the time, place and person to put anything into effect, to realize any project in terms of three-dimensional reality. He could have been a successful business executive, anthropologist, explorer, criminal, but the conjuncture of circumstances was never there. He is always too late or too early. His abilities remain larval, discarnate. He is the last of an archaic line, or the first here from another space-time way—in any case a man without context, of no place and no time.

– William S. Burroughs, Word Virus

What is there to add? Growing up in the fifties and sixties, being a rebel, loner, and wild man one drifted in and out of the madness as if it were the natural course of things. The Beats, Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski, etc. were not so much our troubadours as they were the misfit vanguard of some strange new sign of life. As if they had moved into a future that slid sideways, sidereal to our own, marked out their own nightmare paradises, bitten the fruit of other strange forbidden trees.

Scholars of the night and streets they dove into the cesspool of existence and brought back the darkness instead of the light, but this was no ordinary darkness: this was the depths of hell, a place we all live in but never knew before. Most of us live with blinkers, blinded to our own inescapable truth, the truth of our own nightmarish realizations. Never realizing that hell is paradise, a place of unbidden dreams, a realm of hope and plenty, we wander as zombies, asleep, frightened, unable to envision an escape into one of these zones of pure joy.

It took these poets of the madness, shamans of a joyous despair, to lead the way out; or, was it the way in? The Labyrinth is neither in or out, it leads nowhere; or, it leads elsewhere, toward some hidden zone of being where the nightmares live.  Men like Old Bill Lee walked before us, explored the intricacies of these dark chambers, and returned to tell us about love and the thoughts of love. We have only to follow this Philosophy of the Sewer, break out of the frozen world of our caged normalcy and begin to know and live a life that is what is

– S.C. Hickman, A Zombie’s Journal

China Mieville: The City & The City

“What matters in post-Panoptical power-relations is that the people operating the levers of power on which the fate of the less volatile partners in the relationship depends can at any moment escape beyond reach – into sheer inaccessibility.”
–   Zygmunt Bauman

“The panpsychist view, namely, is that anything that exists must also perceive. But the view I have suggested is that anything that relates must perceive. Only by becoming a piece of a larger object, only by entering into the interior of a larger one, does an entity have anything like a psyche. This means that entities have psyches accidentally, not in their own right. For our model allows for entities to exist apart from all relations.”
    – Graham Harman

Already there is the duplicitous double, a mirror world, a suture between T H E  C I T Y & Y T I C  E H T in the very title of China Miéville’s new speculative fiction. He tells us of the precursors that have shaped this vision: Raymond Chandler, Franz Kafka, Alfred Kubin, Jan Morris, and Bruno Schulz.  Like a subterranean band of brothers (or ghosts? spectres?) each of these authors inhabits the interstices of this vibrant neo-noir world, each will wander among the ruins and hidden byways, the illusionary realms and facades dividing the cities from each other like zones of an open secret, a secret that can but should never be breached nor acknowledged in the order of the real that each citizen has chosen to believe in.

For to breach the forbidden zones between these opposing realities is to breach the law that upholds the order of the real that each holds most dear: breached in the sense of an overdetermined meaning that disallows and disavows its own dark boundaries. For this is a world that can be breached only at the peril of those who would dare enter the dark maze of this funhouse neo-noir landscape, a non-relational inscape between corrupted and corrupting realities. Like a Borgesian fable this work wanders among its meanings like a victim of an age old crime, a crime that is always happening, but has never happened; an event, always about to cast a shadow over all things, but is always already both past and future and just beyond reach or access of the human.

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