The Tower

Drive down the interstate at night headed north, leaving the city behind. Its form fades to light. A septic glow rotting the sky. Accelerate until the traffic dissipates into the tree-shrouded suburbs, into quiet office parks, into the undead sodium-lit factory complexes.

An old metal bridge up ahead. At the engorged river dotted with the peaks of flooded homes in what used to be the century floodplain. Low forested cliffs pick up on the far bank, looming from the brown water. The cliffs tumble into low hills, smooth into prairie. Last exit before the border. The city seemingly a world and an eternity away, the sucking arms of its light squirming about it in a monstrous container of nighttime. Numbered farm roads and the toothless carcasses of old barns, glowing faintly miles off the road.

A night so black only a cheap horror writer could love it.

The exit is more inviting than the blank vector of highway. If you were to pull off at this exit, the road would immediately turn to shattered asphalt, the bigger gaps filled in by gravel. The window open, cicadas saw in the hot night. To the right is a gas station with an attached Subway, both open 24 hours. There is a single patron, a man in a suit leaning against a gleaming black car, blown out under the fluorescent lights which are attended by a host of mosquitoes and moths. Within the gas station is an attendant, leaning against the counter, engrossed in their phone. Even the sign COLD DRINKS, visible in the window, doesn’t seem enticing. The entire scene is monstrous, a solitary glowing eye seen in the dark.

There is no breeze out here. As the car slows, the wet heat seeps in, brushing your arm. There’s heat lighting off to the right, just above a sagging tangle of dying trees.

The cigarette you flick out the window gleams on the ground, a flare for no one, receding in the mirror. As you move towards the gas station, the road drops out into murky brown water. Should be careful. You stop and get out to see if it’s too deep. There’s no way to know without dipping a foot in.

In the headlights, you can see the small pool swarms with larvae. Best not risk driving through and flooding the engine. Your old car can only take so much. Get back in and turn around, throwing up mud and gravel as you turn into the shoulder and back the way you came. The highway is somehow emptier than the world.

There will be something better up ahead. It’s a long drive.

Past the flooded road and across the dead plains, populated only by mechanical threshers and arachnid waterers chitinously clicking slowly in the moonlight, there is a dead town called Acropolis (population: 350) sitting on a small rise besieged by scrub forest. The Davidson River is at its lowest this summer, the cracked mud alluding to its former width. Old tires, beer cans, scraps of metal sit under what used to be the water line, now bleached and exhumed, tangled in the roots of the dead river grass.

Up the hill is Acropolis’ Main Street. At the end is a small plaza and in its center is a statue honoring the town’s founder standing nobly atop a plinth, both rotted with age but still erect. His arm is outstretched, pointing west to the evening star, likely intended to embody the frontier spirit contemporary to its founding. There is nothing now: only emptiness left to point at, leaving the finger projecting obscenely.

Behind this plaza sits the shuttered Museum of History, in the old Marston House, and within its peeling walls is a photo depicting the street as a beautiful boulevard, lined with trees and wood plank sidewalks, the doors of the shops open to the street’s patrons.

All of that is gone. Power lines cut scissions across the sky, stitching across the devastated canal leading away from the Marston House, swaying in the moist breath rolling off the plain. In the gleam of the moon there is only visible the hollow eyes of facades, of open garage doors leading into long-defunct auto shops. Crumbling drifts of bricks choking the broken off shafts of young trees. Here and there a car is parked along the side of the road, implying activity. Closer inspection reveals it is, of course, empty. All of them is either impossibly old, or if new enough to drive, missing tires or a windshield; which, in fact, is all the more mysterious: Acropolis is completely empty, totally vacant, with no one left even to destroy a outsider’s car in the middle of the night.

At the opposite end of the street, before the eyrie falls away into a thick carpet of brambles, the skyline of the city is clearly visible, butchering the horizon like a glittering knife.

Intersecting Main Street was a narrow, cramped road—more of an alley. Here the trees grew overhead until they knitted into a arch. There were no lights except a wan shimmer off of the water puddled in old tire tracks. But down this road was a single occupied house. Surrounded by a collapsing chain link fence and a yard dominated by overgrowth, set far back from the street. The heavy curtains in the windows nearly obscured the feeble light inside, producing the effect of a thin haze which was a perpetual bane of the occupant.

Within the house’s living room, the occupant sat in a tattered chair upholstered in plaid. He was wearing a bathrobe, and pushing his long, matted grey-black hair behind his ear. He was shirtless and sweating. He held a dirty glass in his hand, nearly empty except for a dark brown alcohol and 3 half-melted ice cubes. Stacks of paper (books, old magazines, last decade’s newspapers) seemed to move like glaciers across the floor. Box fans arrayed around the room failed to moderate the temperature. Above the occupant on the popcorn ceiling was a horrible rash of nicotine stains. The only furniture besides the chair and a small table lamp on the floor was an overturned milk crate on which was placed on overflowing ashtray, stolen years ago from the now-defunct Riviera Casino Hotel. The only decoration was the mounted, poorly-taxidermied head of a deer hanging on the wall from a desperate nail, and a radio, playing talk softly, the voices dissolving into white noise. The time was 3 AM.

With a grunt, the occupant rose from his chair and drank the remainder of what was in his cup, ice cubes and all. He began his routine: turn off the fans, turn up the radio for Foster, hiding upstairs. Car keys and wallet in pocket. Hat on head. Lock the door behind him. Into the cloying heat of the night, simmering with insects. The truck, burnt-orange and grey, brushed by the black foliage hanging low over the gravel driveway.

High beams cutting drifting dust on the highway to Cairo. The sputtering fury of the truck’s engine roaring off the trees crowding the roadside. Trash rolling around the passenger side floor. Windshield a graveyard for a thousand mosquitos. A dead deer cut open by the metal of the guardrail, its head smashed and neck broken. Smell of skunks in through the open window or maybe roadkill. Almost chilly. Cigarette lighter gleaming bloodshot in the darkness. Feel of hand sticking to leather steering wheel in the heat. No one around save for the two rear lights of another car far ahead that keeps disappearing on the far side of the soft hills. Billboards for defunct businesses in graveyard towns. Cop on shoulder asleep in the driver’s seat for hours now. Semis on exit ramps with cab lights on.

Cairo: exit 77. The new factory off the highway waiting for workers, still missing walls. Repose under insect stalks of lights. The restaurant the occupant worked at in high school, single car sky blue in the parking lot with trunk and driver’s door open and a figure in shadow throwing a bag in the dumpster. Houses on the street as the speed limit drops to 35 mph. Some sitting empty with doors open atop shattered concrete steps. A field to the left with an old sign half sunk into the mud. For Sale 35 acres Will Subdivide. Perfect for Shopping Center. Helicopter or drone overhead, blinking red white red white. RVs idling near the entrance at the grocery store leeching power from the grid, idling.

You leave the truck near the only entrance that isn’t blocked off for the night. Lights inside so bright and clinical, blinking tears as pupils dilate. Fingertips and teeth looking even more yellow. Must get a carton of cigarettes. The cart has a stuck wheel. Liquor aisle toiletries section look at magazines. Liquor aisle again. Cereal aisle. Forget that you’re not here for the usual reasons. Sleepy employee at customer service doesn’t notice and walks over after 5 minutes past to check out. She rolls her eyes. Feel cold metal of gun in pocket. Think about how easy it would be. No, no. It’s fine. Ask her when her shift ends to be nice. She doesn’t answer.

Back onto highway where the city sits like stitches holding back the beginning of dawn far off. Knees stiff, sinking into matted fabric of driver’s seat. The world still black under the lightening dome. Cars in drivethru line ready for coffee. Dissipating dew and fading glow from plate glass windows.  

Cirrus clouds like streaks of tar. The city obliterated briefly in the furious light of the morning star. Squinting against long streaks of day. Smell of oil and grass. Another cigarette. Press heavier on the gas. Have to get to the destination before the traffic begins, the highway becomes choked with workers heading into the city for the day. He can already hear them stirring, like millions of great cockroaches with human faces. Pour whiskey into the thermos while driving to calm the nerves. The morning star an unblinking eye. Locked in a cyclopean staring contest. Sky all around going the pink of bruised flesh. The city resolves again as the sun departs upward. In dead center a new monolith stretching twice as high as all the other buildings, ordinal, a true skyscraper. Impossibly slender, a single bar of black, of non-information, sonorous omphalos piercing the heart of the sun. A syringe from hell. When did that get there? They must have built it overnight.

Pull off onto shoulder next to flooded creek. Boots crunching the skeleton of a dead bat. Mammoth Lake nearby beyond a copse of dead trees, and Lake Strand Dam 5 miles to the west. The Dam and this new tower are conjoined twins, the same murderous hypercephalic monster, mirrored terrors of engineering, a knife in the neck of the natural order. Drag the old gate secured with a loop of chain back wide enough to drive through and return it behind you. Rattling down the road like a ball in the lotto machine, the old shocks incapable of handling the deeply scarred dirt. Mount the flat rocks and drive through the stream where it cuts across the road after heavy rains with no bridge. No Trespassing Keep Out. Violators Subject to Fines and Imprisonment. Keep the gun close. Finger on trigger.

Goodbye city, farewell Pandaemonium.

Easy easy easy. So easy. Still have the badge from back in the day, the keycard to the generator room. Then even easier: a thousand ways to destroy everything. Throw a wrench into things if necessary (though it’s not elegant). Nothing elegant. Remember the tower. Gravestone of God. Throat tightens. Running out of time. What happens if they start moving out instead of up? Insect people, economic subjugation. Sweaty palms and restored buildings. Too-white teeth grinning over black coffee. Fucking. Fucking. Fucking. Developers, the black magic hooded Baal of the market. Remember as a kid on the stock market floor? Terror even then at bizarre rituals and tickertape reports in staccato demon voice. Reverse glossolalia. Dad was a banker. Good he’s dead. Feed them back to themselves. They will eat their own faces for a profit. Lap up their own brains puddled on the floor if you could commoditize it. The charnel house of the universe, the parasitic insatiability. The forest smells like oil, like electricity, like fish shit. There are no people, remind yourself. There were once. Now it’s just you. You against the cabal that has you dancing on a puppet string or kicking spasmodically with neck in a noose. They aren’t people and if they were they would beg for death for their sins. In your bullets, in your Great Flood, they will find humanity once again right as it slips away, forever and ever. The lake reborn, the cracked dirt upturned mouth. To bear witness to their lungs filling with plastic fiber, with chemical waste, with briny lakewater, screaming as the water rises and pours into their mouths, only ever swam at the gym and unable to cope.

Asked for badge at the guard house. It’s the young kid, older now of course. He remembers you. How are things? Fine, fine. You’re there to surprise someone for their birthday. Um, Mark. It’s Mark’s birthday. Hope things are good on your end. Yeah, can’t complain. Anyway, have a good day. Take care.

Wet branches in the parking lot from last night’s storm. The trees. You’ve thought about this. Necessary martyrs. When the Flood comes they will not be spared. You mutter an apology under your breath.

Hallways still needing new paint, a sky blue faded to arctic white with yellow water stains. 10 feet to the left a monstrous, thrashing, imprisoned fury of water. Every bolt every metal plate sighing with you for release.

You wonder again if you should have called your daughter back in Pandaemonia. But no. If you, if the trees must drown, so must she. The unwillingness to make sacrifices is exactly what is at issue here.

Up the black stairs and past the open window. Sun high now moving much too fast. Perihelion.

The city visible over the trees. The Tower ever taller, now fully four times more so than the next tallest building. In fact, all the other buildings, black and gray blue in the haze of summer, all seemed misshapen, melted. Must be drunk. Like a paper bag in the rain, sluggishly collapsing, bowing to their new emperor.

As you watch the Tower continues to grow.

As you watch it becomes clear, suddenly, there had been a crucial confusion. The Tower is not a figure, not a tower at all. A tearing of the ground. A cut by a cosmic knife through the sky.

The blue peels back. Compromised.

And what had been previously held back came roaring through the opening.  va-tombstone1-03

Gateway to the West

“I am not I; I am but a hollow tube to bring down Fire from Heaven.”

—Louis Hemmingen, epitaph

“What happened to St. Louis?”
“I never heard of it.”
“How do you get down to the lake?”
“Oh, there is a cave system…leads down to grottoes.”

—William S. Burroughs, The Western Lands


The sun rose the color of wax this morning against a shifting grey sky. By noon it has faded to slate, granite grey, with storm clouds mounting in the west. A soft rain at first. By the time I leave my apartment, the wind is throwing trash and leaves, sending it skittering for windbreak corners. When I get out of my car rain rips at my face like needles. As I walk to the café, I keep my head down, mapping my travel against the reflected light caught in the rapidly freezing water pooling on the sidewalk. Red yellow white blue cycling as I pass by storefronts, homes.

Opening the door to the café invites in a shot of the furious gale outside, prompting cruel glances. I order a black coffee and stammer thank you, before finding a table toward the back. A TV bolted to the wall silently plays CNN, captions lagging behind, the poor encoding making a grotesque mockery of speech.

I settle in and wait for Peter, scanning the room between drinks of coffee that burn my tongue. The light inside is too bright, too clinical, especially in contradistinction with the premature night outside. Over the murmur of conversation, I can hear the soft roar of rain and mechanical systems. A branch tick-tick-ticks staccato on the glass window to my back. 15 minutes gone. I can feel my frustration mount with every second, both with Peter’s lateness and our reason for meeting — my own intellectual torpor. Hopefully Peter can help. I have only met him briefly before, haven’t talked to any advisors after what happened to Maggie.

After a few minutes, Peter enters, rain sluicing vantablack off his jacket. At the counter, I can hear him order a tea. My coffee is already going oily in its paper cup. He spots me and waves, threads his way through the narrow tables, dress shoes tapping on ceramic tile. He slides into the chair across from me, makes genial small talk about the weather for a few minutes, adding sugar to his black tea.

After a pause, he looks up at me with renewed seriousness. “How’s the dissertation going?”

I pause for a moment. Sigh. “I’m a little stuck, truth be told.”

“Um. Hold on, don’t remind me…uh…mid-century modernism in St. Louis? Public housing, that kind of thing?”

“Right. Kinda.”

“Well, what seems to be the problem?” He pulls out his tea bag, sets it on a napkin.

“Well, I guess I’ve hit a wall,” I begin. “Everything available is too general, too banal. The archives themselves are a mess. Almost nothing is digitized, or even catalogued really. Just no one seems to care. I can’t even get a thesis formulated outside of doing some kind of historical survey.”

Peter nods knowingly. “It’s harder in these small cities, these mid-level places like St. Louis. Getting archives in shape and keeping it that way is basically a function of what your intern budget is.”

“Yeah. Every time I go to the City Hall records, they’re so overworked I don’t think they’d ever clean anything up unless I volunteered or something.”

“Why don’t you?” Peter muses. Then abruptly, he snaps to attention, seemingly having just recalled something. “Hold on one moment,” he says, “I have something for you,” and reaches into his bag. “You won’t find this in the archives, that’s for sure.” He treats the extracted object with delicate reverence as he places it on the table.

“Take a look at this.”

It’s a book. Titled City of the Arch, written by a Fatima Duré. I’m a bit unimpressed: it looks like cheap schlock, the kind of thing you’d find in the grocery store checkout line or the New Age section at a chain bookstore. The cover is pure bombast, all flashing golds and blues. The inner jacket begins, “For the first time in print…”

I look up and pause, trying to read Peter’s face. He’s utterly impassive. I can’t help but wondering if this is a joke, but decide to be civil. “What’s the story with this thing?”

“Well”, he mumbles, “I’m not quite sure. My friend is a historian on contract with the Natural History Museum. I had mentioned offhand I was meeting with a student into, and what you’re interested in, she dug this out of the archives and let me borrow it. I didn’t get very far into it but, uh, it’s on St. Louis history, and apparently has something to do with your thesis. She was very adamant this would be very helpful for your work.”

“Well, thanks,” I mutter, setting it on the table facedown. The entire back cover is dominated by Fatima’s author photo. The author is a small, hunched woman sitting in a simple wood chair, with enormous glasses set above her beatific smile. Her body is obscured in countless scarves, blankets, headwraps.

“Maybe it’ll be just what you’re looking for,” he grins hopefully.

The rest of the conversation is short. Any questions I ask seem to be met with mounting impassivity, terminating into an interval of concluding small talk. Peter theatrically checks his watch and stands up. “I have to go”, he placates. “Really sorry. I’m actually getting out of town for a few days. Have to catch my flight.” All I can do is nod passively as he collects his things, hurriedly drinking the last of his tea.

“Maybe Book of the Arch can at least be a bit of light reading over the weekend!” he suggests, half-cheerily, on his way out the door. The last of his words are nearly erased by the howling wind outside.

What a waste of time. This stupid fucking book. I flip through, starting in the middle and letting the pages fall. In the top corner of the inner cover, there’s a small, neat scribble, reading:

If Lost Please Return.

Emily Tocz

1918 Division St.

There’s no title page, no Library of Congress info, not even publisher information or a date. There’s just a blank page, and then the header CHAPTER 1, which begins with the line, “For the movement of peoples I have come to you.”

A chill. I instinctively look to see if someone opened the door, but the café is silent and still as ever, the doors shut tight against the storm outside. People’s faces lit by the phoresence of their laptops.

A voice in my head, a wicked conscience. Buried deep in the occulted backbrain. It warns me: Be careful. Barely louder than a whisper.

Careful? Sure. Of this ridiculous thing.

“And since I have come, the working has already begun. Ours is a history out of joint. Let us speak of the Empyrean Proceeding, the great project of the Aeon and of its End. Let this book be a message for those that will come beyond, for the Children of the Future. For they must be made to understand why he did what he had to and what he was bidden, within the structures of the age.”

I flip a few pages ahead, to something that looks a bit more coherent. In the middle of page 13:

“In 1948, infuriated with Karl Germer’s leadership after the death of Crowley, Louis Hemmingen began holding small colloquia in the basement of his South City home. These initiates eventually began referring to themselves as the Church of Starry Wisdom, meeting under the sign of the Saturnine (later Empyrean) Arch. With the Church, Hemmingen became increasingly obsessed with the Liber 474, a text written by Crowley and which announces itself as “the Gate”. The figure of the gate, borrowed from Royal Arch masonry, would come to consume Hemmingen as his star rose in his professional life…”

Ok, this is actually interesting. Or at least, it makes slightly more sense. I actually know the name Louis Hemmingen, vaguely: St. Louis Housing Authority Director in the 1950s, presiding over the heyday of urban renewal, generally remembered by history as a racist asshole and not much else. Not really of any particular interest — just one of a priestly bureaucratic class of lifelong public servants of the type that seemed to be a dime a dozen in the postwar period. When I look him up, his Wikipedia entry is basically empty, a sedate listing of facts: born to a high-level Purina exec and a homemaker, graduated from Washington University with a degree in architecture, became a planner in Pasadena before returning home at Bartholomew’s request for appointment to the Directorship of the Housing Authority. His exploits in St. Louis read like a laundry list of urban renewal initiatives: slum clearance (especially for the Jefferson Memorial Park project), public housing project construction, the works. No mention of any Gate or Empyrean Arch…

“…as his star rose in his professional life”. This seems like a bizarre description of the career of a technocratic company man now entombed in the dustbin of history, whose only legacy is blundering his way toward the utter collapse of St. Louis’ as a city altogether. Is that what counts as a “star rising”? Clearly, Duré isn’t urban faculty anywhere…

The Liber 474. Karl Germer. Both of these names are strangely intriguing… especially in relation to the name Crowley, which I’m guessing is the famous magician, Aleister. The Liber is easy enough to find online (assuming I have the right one — this one is titled Liber OS ABYSMI vel DAATH sub figura CDLXXIV).

But underneath the overwrought title, the first line is plain enough: “This book is the Gate of the Secret of the Universe”.

I have been becoming increasingly uncomfortable as I read, every word grasping at me with icy importance. This sensation suddenly crests, becomes unbearable. I realize I have been shivering badly. The wind outside must be worming in through the windows, under the door. The book itself feels frozen, the cover a skein of ice.

I need to get out of here and calm down. I slip the book in my bag and wrap myself in my coat. When I step back out onto the sidewalk, the air is thick with ice, cutting into my face. All the other figures I pass on the walk back to my car are shrouded, faces couched back deep under shadowed hoods. They walk with harried purpose, loping inhuman in and out of the pools of light from streetlamps.

When I chance a look up, the clouds are piled high against a black sky, rising into boiling, noxious infinity.

Call to mind

When I get home that evening, I’m still thinking about the gnomic passage on Hemmingen, Germer, and Crowley. Let’s pretend it were true, I tell myself. What would this mean? Hemmingen, boring civil servant. I recall reading some article a few months ago that referred to him as “St. Louis’ Robert Moses, but as evil as he was dull”. Kind of hard to square that with the allusions in Book of the Arch, however: Hemmingen moonlighted as the priest of some crackpot church? The hypersecular pragmatism of Moses’ blight-burn-build axiom lashed to apocalyptic theology and weird magic. I wonder what would happen if I cited it in the dissertation, tucked it into a footnote or something: “Oh yeah, Hemmingen? Sure, he was a boring racist weirdo, but did you know? He also was some type of sorcerer…”


I’m hearing things. I need to sleep. But I can’t — the Book of the Arch seems to be beckoning me to read on, demanding I continue. I look over at my stack of books to read, piled messily in the corner, and sigh. Far too much to do.

The Housing Question will be there tomorrow, I tell myself. Take a night off. If you can call it that.

I go sit at the kitchen table and reread the passage I read earlier. First order of business is to figure out who these other people are, beginning with Karl Germer. When I look him up, the first result is some ancient page naming him the “successor to Crowley in the Ordo Templi Orientis, Frater Saturnus, personally appointed as Outer Head by Crowley after his death”. That’s not much of a help.

The second result is an article, blessedly written in some approximation of normal english by a British O.T.O. “excommunicant and poet” named Kenneth Grant. The article is titled “On Love Lost: The Sad State of the Ordo Templi Orientis”, denouncing Germer as a “charlatan” and “extracephale, a rotting Head”. Hemmingen’s name swims up out of the noise-pattern of text. Grant quotes him, no less. Further, Grant is speaking specifically about Hemmingen’s Church of Starry Wisdom as some type of schismatic precedent. “Hemmingen’s letter to me sums up my position exactly: ‘Following Germer’s ascendency, I became ashamed of my status in the Ordo Templi Orientis. Yes, I broke away, ensnaring and ensuring the good name of the O.T.O., of Crowley, of Parsons, preserving them and smuggling them into the future under the Empyrean Arch.'” A few lines later, Grant indicates his allegiance to “Hemmingen’s model of a diffuse, patchwork faith” as a counterweight to “the old sin of the unitiated and monomythic hubris”. He ends the essay sketching out some tenets for a new organization, a “Typhonian O.T.O… a friend to Hemmingen’s American church…”

Flipping back to Book of the Arch, Duré continues the passage: “Hemmingen did not act alone in carving out his sanctum in the Kingdom. There were others, and indeed others beyond them. But one man emerges as a particular friend and mentor of Hemmingen’s Empyrean Proceeding: Harland Bartholomew, then VIII° in the American O.T.O. It was the agape shared between him and his mentor that animated and sustained him, a perfect closed loop of masterful willpower. Harland Bartholomew was the law, and Hemmingen, working under him, but fiery and driven, supplied an infinite engine of will. The two were exemplary of what is possible within the Current — artists and scientists both, a masterful syzygy, perfect cosmic twins.”

I have to laugh at this one. There’s just no way. Harland Bartholomew? Urban renewer sui generis, the father of the field of planning in general? If Hemmingen being a secret mystic was one thing, Bartholomew was quite another…

I give Bartholomew a cursory look, specifically sniffing for any occult-seeming connections, only to find an immediate dead end. Surprisingly (just like Hemmingen) the amount of data available on him is extremely small. The bulk of the search results are his obituary, or longform articles on the urban renewal he championed. On JSTOR, the first substantive option is a paper entitled, “’The Whole City is Our Laboratory’, Harland Bartholomew and the Production of Urban Knowledge”. The title seems interesting enough to warrant a read. Skimming the text, I find a pertinent quote: “’In the science of city planning,’ Ford wrote in 1915, ‘the whole city is our laboratory. All its facts and symptoms are more or less under observation and in play, but the expert city planner soon sifts the significant from the less important.10’” Endnote number 10 is even more pertinent, reading:

“Bartholomew, a life-long Mason, often referred in his private letters to the notion of ‘tesselation’. One can see why. To Masons, the warp and weft of contemporary life is represented as a chessboard — and tessellation, then, is the checkered patterning. The crucial turn for a Mason such as Bartholomew is the acquisition of an analytical & scientific critical distance, a view to a process of data control, of cybernetic authority, allowing for the careful movement of pieces across the board.”

The power of tessellation. To make the “whole city our laboratory”. The word laboratory seems wrong in that typical, technocratic way — the city isn’t a controlled project with a defined set of variables.  “Moloch, whose mind is pure machinery!” No, no.

“What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?”

Moloch is the city. A massive sorting machine, a god of eugenics slaved to a meat grinder. A flesh engine. All that’s necessary is for operators like Hemmingen, or Bartholomew, to stick the key in and break it off.

Moloch by another name. Choronzon.

I put down Book of the Arch and go outside to the small balcony off the kitchen, 3 stories above the frozen mud of the yard. The wind threatens the flame as I light a cigarette. The trees have been stripped by the storm, leaves fluttering in spiral columns up over houses. Embers peeled off the end of my cigarette join the dance, lofted higher and higher against the flat black sky. My heart is beating quick and erratic, my mind still plagued by the Book sitting on the table inside. Maybe I really can mine it for something useful.

I drown my cigarette in a flowerpot on the railing, overflowing with sooty rainwater. I check the time. 9:30. I had told friends I would meet them for a show. Better keep my promise.

I get to the bar 15 minutes later. The band is unlistenable shit, as I feared. As I get drunker, the leering mental spectre of the Book gives way to a full-blown haunting. Hemmingen and Bartholomew stalk my brain, conjoined in abominable shapes, joined at the head, the hips, fractalizing into pixelated worms. I almost see them everywhere, lurking in crowds, disappearing around corners. My body feels too heavy, and with a creeping dread I realize the chill in my spine from the café earlier never left. Instead it has rotted into my bones, seeped into my muscles, begun to leech black dread. I keep drinking. Wonder if I can poison it.

After the show, I’m talking to Sarah, smoking on the dark patio, huddled under the dull eye of a whirring busted heat lamp. I’m five beers in, a sixth in hand.

More people come out to join us. She starts talking about her thesis, as always. Some type of Benjaminian flânerie thing that frankly, escapes me. I’m jealous as hell, I admit. She’s somehow scammed funding out of enough people to go on research trips, all from recording her ‘walkabouts’. She’s gotten write-ups in Places, Log, and other publications I don’t even know about. She’s shopping her dissertation to publishers already, has Routledge talking last I heard.

Meanwhile, I can’t even break 20 pages, and my summer plans currently are to just boil alive in my South City apartment. I just let her talk, hope I’ll soak up her good fortune or something by keeping a pleasant smile on my face. Right now she’s talking about Paris, and something called a “flâneuse”.

“…Elkin is a fucking wrecker, you know? Neoliberal bullshit. Like, ah, wow, cool, neat, you just wrote Eat Pray Love for the CityLab set…”

We all laugh at that. Alan, sitting next to me, mutters with a glass to his lips, “… never read the Convolutes…”

I can’t tell anyone I have no idea what they’re talking about. I should be home, reading something relevant. Writing. The old panic of failure. These conversations always drain me. They get worse as the night goes on and the talk gets more theoretical. I know I can’t talk about the Book without these people. These are actual scholars. They would call me either insane or childish. I realize quietly that I’m not sure if they’re right, or just myopic — blinkered by some reality that is nonetheless irreal. What is the real difference between Benjamin and Hemmingen? Both are mystics, aren’t they?

I make an excuse to leave early, and come home to Book of the Arch. The cover seems to be glowing phosphorescent in the pitch black of my room.

I know I should be reading something else, something important. Inertia pulls me over to the Book and I randomly flip to a page toward the middle.

“When we call the mound-builders Cahokia,” Fatima expounds, “we are participating in a memetic anachronism, a flatline of meaning. As the French explorers themselves admit, the city had no name. Cahokia is a nominator applied retroactively; like the ghost lemurs of Madagascar, by the time the explorers found the poor souls sulking in the ruins of the city-without-a-name, they were only shades of their former selves. The Nameless City. And, ‘[w]hen I drew nigh the nameless city I knew it was accursed’.

If we must name it, let us call it the City of the Pyramids. To arrive at the City of the Pyramids requires a bridging of the gap. The City of the Dead is matched on the eastern shore by the City of Eternal Unlife. Despite his dissension, Hemmingen doubtlessly knew Choronzon must be superseded. The mound-builders also knew this, in a sense, because their quotidian was a state of constant supersession. They lived forever under N.O.X., the Night of Pan, that old, Old Night, wrapped in transcendent kairos.”

Old Night. I’m not sure what that means, exactly, but the name seems to imply… uh. Something more than just nighttime. I look outside. The blackness presses heavy on my window, deep and utterly impenetrable, telescoping unseen onto boundless infinity. Suddenly seeming tangible, not the absence of light at all but a sustained assault against the wan bulb overhead. “Unreverberate blackness”. What’s that quote from? Lovecraft? Ligotti? No no, none of those are right.

I make tea before falling asleep, hoping to head off an impending hangover. Ginger and chamomile wreathed in pallid steam. Another random page of the Book:

“William Burroughs’ intricate pseudo-Ægyptian cosmology points us to the West. His way, however is fraught, dependent on theoretical knowledge and lashed to the prow of narrative. Practically, Bartholomew constructs the door and Hemmingen draws back the Gate. Passage from the East to the West. Passage into St. Louis. Passage into the City of the Dead, the capital of Sheol.”

“… draws back the Gate.” The Gateway.

The Gateway to the West. The Arch.

Of course.

The whispering voice. Again. So far back in my mind this time I think I can hear it behind me. When I spin to look for the source I nearly fall over.

Fuck, get yourself together. You’re drunk, you’re hearing things, you’re concocting weird shit. Don’t go insane. Go to sleep. Wake up and try not to be a lunatic.

As I crawl into bed I blearily make a note to follow up on Peter’s friend from the Natural History Museum, the curator. Must make sure to email him tomorrow and ask for her information.

Sleep is restless. Bodies and faces flicker like a bad connection. The Book is a terror, sprouting tentacles, stalking corridors of dream. Rasping in the deep. It wears Hemmingen’s face, eyes black and burning.


The next morning I wake up and email Peter, asking after the friend who had initially recommended me the Book. Within seconds: mailer-daemon error. Address not found. No out of office, nothing.

After my morning class I look him up on the faculty directory. Another dead end — no results. The office phone at the end of his old emails is dead air.

He’s new, I remind myself. Probably just not fully in the system yet. I’ll try again in a few days.

The day is deep grey. Light rain. Bitter cold. In the evening, after class, I stand in the parking lot, my hand frozen, and watch the skyline preside over roaring highways, glowing hearthlike. There’s a knot in my stomach as I see the dull gunmetal parabola through the buildings and remember


The Arch the arch the arch thearch the arch on the archon the horizon blazing black bleary burning in the distance

In the library, I pull Book of the Arch from my bag. On the first page my eyes again fall on Emily’s scribbled note and address.

Well, in the absence of getting to talk to Peter’s friend, Emily may be my best bet to get some answers. No email or phone number. Just address. It occurs to me that I could visit her right now. Just to see if she knows anything. And besides, I rationalize, if I stay here any longer, I’ll lose my mind.

The recently-passed rain has left behind heavy, iron petrichor, quickly becoming encased in ice. 1918 Division is only a few blocks away but the night air is so cold the yellow pools of light from the sodium streetlamps are frozen cones and hollow buzzing. My car whines, the synthetic leather of the wheel sticking to the heel of my palm, my fingertips. I park on Hogan, a small residential cross-street,  and quickly walk down towards Division. At the corner, I stop.

A vast, fenced-in nothingness: 1918 Division doesn’t exist. There are no houses at all — just a metal fence, with a parking gate, stretching the whole block. When I cross to peer through the iron gate, I can see the back of a huge structure, a sulking behemoth of concrete panels dotted with sallow floodlights way across a dead parking lot.

The entire complex looks new, but not too new. 1918 Division, if it ever did exist, hadn’t been residential for at least a few decades. There goes my last attempt to find anything out about all this, I guess. As I turn away, I barely notice a shadowed plaque, mounted low to the ground, nearly hidden in the manicured brush. Embossed serifs gleam dully in the light. “Former site of Darst-Webbe Homes.”

Darst-Webbe? I know this one. It was one of Hemmingen’s housing projects, one of the biggest in the city. Demolished in the 70s, I believe. Had Emily been a resident of Darst-Webbe? Where was Emily now?

You mean when. This time the voice sounds just like it’s coming over my shoulder, muttering in my ear. I don’t even bother to look this time. I know there is nothing there I will be able to see.

Terra Form

I have barely slept when my alarm goes off. I head to campus to go to Olin, desperate for more info on Hemmingen, Bartholomew, anything. Realizing I’m getting a bit fanatic. Feeling strung out, exhausted. Huddle against the cold, raising trembling fingers to my lips to smoke as I walk from my car to the library.

Sarah is in the first floor — her usual spot — surrounded by a pile of books and paper. She gestures me over but I just wave back and continue on. I can’t stop right now.

The only sources on Hemmingen are Volumes 54-63 of The Handbook of Government Employees of the City and County of St. Louis, stored offsite, and almost certainly of not much use. There are 3 publications listed by Hemmingen directly, though. In the search results I can’t help but notice Book of the Arch does not appear as a source, which seems odd. A further quick search for Fatima Duré brings up nothing. Something to check back on later.

Hemmingen’s 3 articles are heterodox (to say the least). Though written on wildly different topics, and years apart they betray a deeper fascination with St. Louis esoterica than any rigorous urban planning subject, or really even his own profession as STLHA Director. The first of his works is an essay published in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers, Volume 43: “Stumbling Through the Ritual”. The second is in Cosmia Wandering — whatever the hell that is: “Social Trance-Formation: On the Empyrean Proceeding” and the last, published several weeks after his death in late 1963 in AAG 62, “A World Beneath Our Feet: The History and Continued Utility of the Cherokee Caves”.

The only one available is A World Beneath Our Feet, which I find tucked into the middle of AAG volume 62, itself sitting quiet and senescent, entombed in dust in an abandoned section of the stacks. Under the title, Hemmingen’s name is centered in the yellowing page, followed by a short, italicized epigraph: “…as Babalon above, so Babalon below.

The essay begins:

“There is a massive cave system that underlays the downtown core of St. Louis, Missouri. This complex, known today by the marketing name ‘Cherokee Caves’, has in fact gone by many names and served many functions: subterranean chiller for breweries, a hub on the underground railroad, and most recently, a tourist attraction. But prior to the founding of St. Louis, these caves served as the fundament for the great imperial seat which the uneducated called Cahokia, but which truly is The Nameless City. And like the titular city in Lovecraft’s work, the Nameless City is, first and foremost, a grotto city, interred underground. The ruined mounds that the City is known for today are simply the surface literations of the large, sunken passages below. The mounds point down, not up, are the violent tip to a slumbering iceberg. The builders of the Nameless City understood they were holding territory. If one can undermine the enemy, victory is near at hand. And if one lacks the high ground, it can be manufactured. This is the true purpose of the mounds. Pyramids as war machines. Pyramids as monuments to the godforms of victory.”

An inline map overlays the positions of the ancient mounds and known entrances to the greater cave network. The caption reads: “Map of the true city, out of sight, an arboreal cuidad lineal cut through solid lith.”

“Morphology of the Nameless City: rich villas bored into rock high in the main caverns, the poor sleeping standing up in narrow passages, dying early due to being forced to cook in unventilated areas during the constant states of emergency. The city presented its hidden face of indomitable stone as marauders ceaselessly violated the prairie overhead in great warbands. Long sluices through solid rock become spines of communication networks populated by chains of callers using the natural reverberating properties of the caves as a public announcement system to communicate information and coordinate tactics, lending their fast voices to the slow muttering of tectonics. By speaking with the Earth, the cave dwellers achieved an efficacy in the transmission of data that, to surface enemies, must have appeared nearly instantaneous. Hic et ubique?

As I read on, Hemmingen’s argument is clearly well-researched, but absolutely delirious: As the population of the Nameless City began building up, the search for better real estate and scenic caverns led to a search further and further into the depths, the city complexifying as it ambled downwards, with elaborate and as-yet-undiscovered cisterns and agricultural construct machines. Pulling away from the surface together, going native in the bowels of the lithosphere, surface access essentially kept as a matter. The surfacemost points, according to Hemmingen, were left to become slums, being the most open to attack. These slums were “packed to the brim with the pitiful, seething dregs of the great civilization, those nearest the state of barbarity in which they’d be discovered later by the French”.

Hemmingen finishes this passage with a cryptic musing: “…as the elites of the City discovered in its course, the notion of a sacrificial mass of persons as a ‘buffer’ population definitely has its utility, a truism lost to history and the creeping humanitarianism of liberal socialism. This expendable mass functions as antibodies for the city, allowing mistakes without disaster, growth without bloating. They knew of the need for a prairie fire to sweep through society. The dross must be burned off.”

Further: “Apocryphal legend among the Shoshone peoples describes one such attack wherein a warband gained entry to the City. The only fatalities suffered by the attackers in their initial assault were three warriors who drowned in the blood of those they executed, after being pinned down by the deluge of those they had killed. The legend describes these wretched as too listless to fight back or even move. The elites, plotting deeper in their cave, were removed altogether from the violence, and thusly, allotted time to plan. When the Shoshone warriors finally burst into the cavern, having fjorded the insane flood of the dead they had created, the fighters of the elites were waiting there, and slaughtered them to a man. The city defends itself by sacrificing itself”

The paper ends with an omen: “The last extent entrance to the abyssal complex is due to be shut forever with the completion of the I-55 corridor, which follows the path of the original French expeditions. Thus the future shuts the door on the past. But the work of the mound-builders continues, as it is not done.

Their secrets will continue to be uncovered by myself and others. I have discovered what they only assumed, and confirmed it as fact; as such, I believe I can recreate and more importantly COMPLETE the centuries-old experiment.”

Finally, the essay closes with the words: “Keep your eye to both the East and the West. A new Proceeding has come.”


“A new Proceeding has come,” Hemmingen says. For some reason, this phrase sounds familiar, reverberating off down catacombs of crumbling memory. From the Book, of course. Somewhere toward the beginning, if I remember correctly? It tumbles through my mind all day. After classes, I rush home and start to skim quickly through the pages, scanning feverishly. Within a moment, it abruptly it surfaces out of the torrent of text, at the end of the first chapter. Duré quoting Hemmingen:

“Two Oh Nine.

This will be my name at the completion of my Empyrean Proceeding, when I shall become other without losing myself.

Two Nine Zero is I;

Servant of Coph Nia,

Servant of Babalon,

Servant of the Starry Arch.”

The next paragraph is equally curious, containing a quote by “arch-itect and Grand Mason Saarinen” on what Duré calls the “holy form of the double wand”: “’…to achieve the simplicity of… the great pyramids of Egypt, because the simplest and purest forms last the longest, and I have always felt this arch of stainless steel would last a thousand years.’”.

“The form of the double wand, the form of the ARCH,” Duré continues, “is not just the Secret Gate, but is itself the toroidal Key unlocking the Sacred Hex. The peripatetic hubris of the obelisk, the arch, the towers, the mound, and yes, the key itself finds itself inverted in the transition from 1 to 0, from pyramid to Arch. In much the same way, one must derive from the Hex the symbol of Pisces in the way the method dictates: by constantly involuting, with appropriate rite. The way is thus: invert Pisces about its meridian, which must and will always remain true. The resultant alchemaic sigil is that of two arches; one above, one below; one celestial, one pelagic.”

Under this paragraph is a small note: “For the full text of the Proceeding to which this passage alludes, please turn to the Chapter called “Walking the Method”, at the end of this book.”

When I flip to the end of the book, looking for the extended quote, I discover the pages have been removed, torn out, leaving only their tattered remains still sewn into the binding.


I text Alan and ask if he’s at work. He works as an archivist at Olin, and I’ve had him help me with stuff before. I figure it’s worth a shot. He texts back a few minutes later that he’s at work and I tell him I’m coming up, looking for “a weird book”. After a few minutes, he responds that he’ll be there until 6 — sitting at the circulation desk. When I come in, I stamp off ice and snow, and he waves me back around to the small research area. Microfiche machines sag on tables and to the back of the alcove, a boneyard tangle of overhead projectors lying fitfully under a blown out light. As he sits down at the small, scratchy CRT monitor, he asks me, “so, you haven’t found anything on the book online?”

“Nope,” I offer, sheepishly.

“Well, I’m sure that means it’s very hard to find,” he says with what I’m sure is a self-assured air. “What’s it called again?”

“The Book of the Arch.”

He turns back to me with an eyebrow raised. “Weird title.”

I shrug. “I guess.”

He begins with a digital search in the University databases. Nothing. The keys chatter like insects under his fingertips as he makes multiple attempts, all dead-ending. Finally, he says, slightly exasperated, “you weren’t kidding about it being hard to find,” and moves over to the microfiche. A few minutes with his eyes buried in the catalog, he breathes deeply and leans back, clasping his hands behind his head.

“Fuck, man. This book may as well not exist,” Alan says, squinting hard at the ceiling. “Well, let me take one more swing at it. Wait a minute.”

He starts over on his circuit, but deeper this time. Repeated searches in multiple databases, at multiple libraries. After several minutes, he turns to another computer. He grimaces and says, “it’s time for the nuclear option” as the computer screen goes white and starts humming. After a minute, he turns the monitor to me, which has a single link:

Did you mean: Liber Arcus?

“I’m not even really sure what database this is pulling from. This computer got pulled up from the basement last week,” he muses.

“Can you click on the link?”

When he does, an ancient webpage appears, deep maroon on black. The masthead reads VYSPAROV DIGITAL COLLECTION. In the middle of the page is a spinning wheel and text which reads “contacting database…”

“Ever heard of Vysparov before?” I ask. He nods no, he hasn’t.

Finally, the database entry on this Liber Arcus loads in:

“The Liber Arcus is a late-medieval codex of unknown provenance. Only one copy is known to have survived, but sadly with a good amount of the original pages lost. The Liber Arcus was previously housed in the Vysparov collection, and prior to that was located in the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana.”

“Don’t think we have ILL access with the Vatican Archives,” Alan says.

“The text has been the subject of much debate over the years due to its obscure subject matter; it describes in detail a City of the Pyramids (Pyramidum Civitas) and the coming, or rather summoning, of some unknown apocalyptic event using the form of the city itself. Some early scholars claim it is the first dystopia, predating the heyday of the Renaissance utopian imaginary by hundreds of years. The text is said to have been written by an Ottoman beatus, identified alternatively as Lecta or Lucta.


The only extent copy was purchased in 1952 by an anonymous buyer on behalf of the Harland Bartholomew & Associates Private Archive, from the Vysparov Collection. In 2008, it was gifted to the Library of Washington University, where it remains to this day.”

“Huh,” says Alan, after reading the last line. “Private archive, huh? That’s usually not indexed — must be why it didn’t show up on my first search.”

“Can I read it?” I ask.

Alan stares at me, blinks, laughs. “Oh, I doubt it. No way, actually. Not officially. The HBA archive is basically closed to anyone that isn’t a relative of Bartholomew himself.”

I press my luck. “Could you get me in?”

“No chance. But, uh…” he looks around conspiratorially, “Well, maybe. But only for a few hours. Would that even be worth it?”

I nod yes. “I could leave the keys out tonight,” he says. “But we’ll have to make a plan.”

It quickly comes together: tonight, when Alan locks up, he will leave the skeleton key to the basement archives on his desk in his office, underneath a file folder. The door to the wing of offices is 8430. The private archive rooms are in the basement, and are all protected with simple, ancient locks. No cameras, either. When I’m done, I’ll replace the key in his office.

I thank Alan and go to leave. “Come back late as you can”, he says. “There’s night security, but they do the rounds for the whole campus. They usually start in here around 2 and then walk around.”

“I’ll be back at 3,” I assure him.

“You must really need this book, huh?” he asks. I have no answer.

I go home for a while. I take a fitful nap and wake up sweating. The weather has shifted. The previously frigid wind seeping in through the half-cracked window has been replaced by a noxiously warm breeze that almost surges and falls like breathing. I’m feeling haunted and anxious again, trying to identify anything out of place. When I roll over, I realize Book of the Arch has been lying facedown next to me, and Fatima’s face is staring out from the back cover. Her previously benign smile now seems gnomic, sinister. I throw the book in my bag. It’s been years since I took Latin, but I still have my translator’s dictionary, so I throw that in too. When I check the clock it’s 2:30 AM.

The library is quiet, looming, its highest stories plunging into a shroud of fog. The windows are too harsh and bright against the black, too ineffectual. Old Night. My stomach is churning acid.

When I look out the third floor window across the windswept vacancy of the campus, I can see the black security SUV with its lights pinched again the gloom. Inside, there is no light except for the periodic wink of fire alarms from between broken-toothed stacks. The white-glass door on the east wall is right where Alan said it would be, and when I enter the passcode it whispers open with a sigh. The key hidden on his desk is a bizarre, ancient thing — black iron with teeth gleaming predatory in the dull light from the hall.

At the end of the hallway containing the offices is a small back of house elevator, leading down to the basement archives. As I descend, I run through Alan’s description: “The basement is kind of strange. It used to be one huge room back when it was originally built. You’re looking for an door with old, black wood and a brass knob. The only one unmarked. White plaster, butted against the southern wall…left if you’re coming out of the office elevator. Once you get inside, there’s a single bulb overhead, with a pullstring.”

The elevator opens onto deep blackness. Within the cone of my phone light, I catch disordered stacks of paper lining the walls and jutting into the corridor, sedimented into stacks or spilling from banker’s boxes, forming a labyrinth. The air is still, deadened with the smell of mildew. When I find the black door, I slip the key in as quietly as I can. Afraid of disturbing something. As I turn the key, tumblers in the lock rise and fall like a ragged breath then thud home. When the door opens, the stench of rot sweeps out, so strong I nearly gag. Feeling in the dark, I find the pull string for the light overhead, and the bulb flickers on resignedly. The ashen light illuminates stacks of books and rolls of drawings, all spilling out of gridded wood shelves that rise to the ceiling. In multiple places the shelves have collapsed, producing cascades of paper, plastic slipcover, and canvas binding. The center of the room is dominated by a massive wooden table, long dulled with dust and raked with fine cuts, its surface completely empty. As my eyes adjust, I notice a black mass in the back corner of the small chamber, seemingly alive. As I move closer, curious, I can make out within its folds words, inscriptions, drawings. When it’s nearly a foot from my face, I put it together: this is the source of the smell. This sinusoidal thing is a colony of black mold, quietly feeding on papers, drawings, diary pages. It is nearly as tall as my knee.

I gag again, and vomit this time for good measure. A horrendous image comes to mind: in a few decades’ time, another person coming to the Bartholomew Archive, opening the door only to be greeted by an impossible wall of obsidian hyphae, the organism having feasted on the entire of Bartholomew’s knowledge, eating what remains into obscurity.

I imagine cutting it open for Bartholomew himself to tumble out like a botched Caesarian.

I can’t stay here long, with this thing. I just have to hope that catalog entry was right. As I flit my fingers over burst shelves and sift through aged sheafs of paper. A schizo library. 1907 Proposal. Notes for 1947 Master Plan. The dismembered spine of an enormous book, faded gilt lettering reading Irem: City of Pillars by Al-Hazred. An enormous column of pages curled with water damage, identical ink footers reading AN ENGINEER’S REPORT. A flurry of identical notebooks dusting everything, their bindings long gone.

On a high shelf near the door, sitting on yet another caved-in stack, is a small black lockbox, violent with intensity. Its lid is dented and scarred, the hinges burst. I pry it open to reveal a small, black book, eating the light. On the aged cover, subtly inset, is a title.

The Liber Arcus.

The words are barely legible. A few stragglers of gilt inlay, the bulk of it long gone, are embedded in the fibers of the canvas. The book itself is small, thin, somehow emaciated. I realize now I had expected something huge, tortured, covered in faces of demons and…well, god knows what. A massive necronomicon, bound in human skin or something like that. The book seems to be immaculately preserved, with thick cord holding the pages together. When I pick up the book, a small slip of paper flutters to the floor, text printed on one side. Set in a simple border is a typed message:

“The ESTATE of LOUIS HEMMINGEN bequeaths the contents of this box to the WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY of ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI for eternal inclusion in the private archive of the LATE HARLAND BARTHOLOMEW and his ASSOCIATED, with the knowledge that there will come a more enlightened Aeon find themselves under the EMPYREAN ARCH, and the KNOWLEDGE contained within shall be freed and forthwith GIFTED to the NEW MAN.”

So Hemmingen is the “anonymous buyer” that purchased the Liber Arcus from the Vysparov collection. Of course.

Under the Liber, in the bottom of the box, is a folded-over polaroid of two men, one seated and one standing, in a small drab room. On the back, in Bartholomew’s slanted script:

Auspicious convening of Church of Starry Wisdom. 1950.

Bartholomew is seated, pointing at a map unfolded on his desk, with Hemmingen watching intently. The map is covered in markings. Stars, blocked-out areas, and heavy scarring — gashes on the landscape, etched with frantic intensity. But underneath the markings, it’s inescapable — St. Louis, sitting inside the gentle curve of the Mississippi.


I sit down at the long, low table in the center of the room and set the Liber Arcus before me, along with Book of the Arch and the translator’s dictionary. The frontispiece of the Liber is a drawing of a woman under an arch made out of stars in the night sky, the symbol of Pisces seated at the crown. She walks on a concave sea of flames.


“Ob motum gentium perveni ad vos.”

This one is easy to translate: “For the movement of peoples I have come to you…”

The first line of the Book of the Arch

I look at the cover of the Liber and shiver uncontrollably. Air suddenly gone ice cold. Just like I did when I first held it. What is this thing? What is Emily’s copy of the Book? The thing is rotten with time, a prison break note from outside history.

Heart racing, I flip to the back pages of the Liber Arcus, those missing from my copy, hoping to find an answer. The missing pages seem to be intended to be read together, one line each set dead center of the 7 pages. I feverishly translate them word by word, and transcribe the english onto a nearby scrap of paper. When I’m finished, I read it back aloud, my voice cracking in the entombed squalor:

  1. I am BABALON. The word before was true, but improperly spoken. I am COPH NIA, that of RA-HOOR-KHUIT.
  2. My PROCEEDING is in the gathering of the child. The child is multiple.
  3. My wand shall be completed. The wand is the PASSAGE, a canal of divine birth.
  4. The Empyrean path works in TRINITY. Look ye both above and below, heavens and hells. I shall bring ye up from them, and also down.
  5. I will PILGRIMAGE for ye. Prepare my resting place. My home is inside the inversion. My consummation is in A Blessed Mirror.
  6. Only I am enough this time, as it always was. My SIGN IS THE STAR. Look to the East and also for its passage in the boundless.
  7. Call my name BABALON and know the sundering of the AEON is at hand.

I get up from the table fast, my breathing frantic, overcome by blinding panic. Breath visible in the air. Everything feels wrong. Deep in the turgid pit of my stomach, something has changed. These were not just words at all, but an incantation. The light flickers overhead, allowing shadows to swamp the room for a moment. When the light comes back, a shifting by the black body of the bibliophagic mold draws my attention. Something in the world, something secret, has been overwritten.

With my fear overcome by curiosity, I investigate the mold again. Dying to know. Whatever change that entered the room when the lights went out is centered here. I know it.

After a moment, I notice a crushed, rolled tube of paper I don’t remember being there before. Its edges are torn, and the surface printed with something dark grey, mottled. I’m drawn to it. I pick it out of the drift of papers, inches from the advancing mold colony, and retreat to the table to unroll it.

It’s the map. The same one from the photo in the box of the inaugural of the Church of Starry Wisdom. The one on the desk, on which Bartholomew is drawing. But this map is just a 1950s satellite photo of the city, no drawings on its aged surface. The edges are dirty, torn.

Suddenly, the whole room seems to sigh, and I know I am not alone. But instead of rising, my anxiety vanishes, replaced by a resigned stillness, a divine hush.

Unroll the map on the table and follow. I will guide thee.

At peace.

Walk the incantation.

The Voice. I allow myself to be lead, my body and mind under some type of soft duress, responding to both my own commands and those of the alien Voice.

  1. I am BABALON. The word before was true, but improperly spoken. I am COPH NIA, that of RA-HOOR-KHUIT.

Center thyself. This is a greeting from the hopelessly beyond, the Bound Infinite. An announcement of unbirth.

  1. My PROCEEDING is in the gathering of the child. The child is multiple.

The children are the dead, the sacrificial, the chattel for slaughter. Hemmingen’s projects, the public housing. Mark the towers with the sign of the star.

  1. My wand shall be completed. The wand is the PASSAGE, a canal of divine birth.

The wand is the Arch, doubled and joined. A canal of life into death. A tube of fire. A resplendent exit. To the West. Signify it with a line.

  1. The empyrean path works in TRINITY. Look ye both above and below, heavens and hells. I shall bring ye up from them, and also down.

As Babalon above. The stars. So Babalon below. The caves. So Babalon in the meridian. The city.

  1. I will PILGRIMAGE for ye. Prepare my resting place. My home is inside the inversion. My consummation is in A Blessed Mirror.

The Pilgrimage up from below. The old explorer’s corridor. I-55. The Arch, the double wand. Doubled again by its reflection in the Mississippi. Trace the river with a line. Complete the sign of Pisces.

  1. “Only I am enough this time, as it always was. My SIGN IS THE STAR. Look to the East and also for its passage in the boundless.

The Morning Star, the Fallen, traversing to the West. To the East is the Nameless City. Passing into Eternity through the gate to the West. The passage tracing the Starry Arch both in the firmament and below. The conjoining of the syzygetic pairs. The Nameless past to the aborted future.

  1. Call my name BABALON and know the sundering of the AEON is at hand.

The birth is the death. Passage through the gate draws all of reality with it. The Axis Mundi, centered at the Arch, at Saarinen’s Pyramid, cracks and screams. The sky weeps black ichor at the end of the Age.

Still possessed of the same resolute quiet, I look at the map. All of it is centered, spinning on the Arch. A geographical sigil. What had Duré (or ‘beatus Lecta’) called it? The toroidal key to the Sacred Hex, the involuting center of Hemmingen’s thaumaturgy. I realize the Arch is not just a gate to the East and West, I realize, but also above and below. A 90 degree revolution. Or rather, it would have been, had Hemmingen completed his task.

You must complete it. And I know, again, the Voice is right. Why, I don’t know. But there’s no argument I could raise against it, or rather against myself. There was never any difference anyway.

Close the circuit, I whisper into the library-crypt. But how? Hemmingen had said the construction I-55, in completing the lower arch, had sealed the last public entrance. Follow the stars. He was intentionally being misleading, covering his tracks. To the towers. To the undercity. In the bones of the towers, in the sealed bowels, I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, I would be able to find a way down to lower Babalon.

1918 Division. “Former site of Darst-Webbe Homes.”


Arch forever on the horizon, a thin carving of steel against the night sky. The world barely breathing. When I arrive at 1918 Division I park hurriedly and slip the reproduction of the Starry Wisdom map in my back pocket.

At the gate, I jump the fence and break into a run. Straight ahead, the ground sinks to a drainage pit. At either end, the outflow sewers are sealed shut with grates, so I start to dig. With a rock, I scrape at the top layer of still-frozen mud at the base of the pit. It begins glassing off in shards. I keep going until the ground softens, and the rock loses its effectiveness. Undaunted, I use my hands to shovel out black earth. Any second. I can feel it now: the hollows below, singing in my blood, calling in the depths.

With a soft moan, the ground around me cracks and caves in, and I fall with the dirt and rock into a small subterranean chamber. The moonlight pools over the concrete walls and floor, sagged and shifted, open cracks with dirt pouring through. The ceiling, where it still exists, is covered in moldy, rotted insulation that sloughs in great sheets like sheaths of skin, revealing crumbling metal beams. An ancient water heater, nested in an impossible tangle of piping, sits in the corner on a ruinous concrete plinth, listing horribly to one side. An old laminate table, 3 legs buckled and the top cracked in half, is lying in the middle of the floor. My shoes crunch dead shards of glass when I walk. I check — yes, the map is still in my back pocket. A single metal door, the frame warped and burst, sits in the shattered wall. Red block letters painted on the cerulean face say WARNING. The door is cracked slightly, dust on the floor saltating in the jet of air exhaled from beyond. I make my way across the room and throw the door open fully. Further in and further down. A thin stair, built out of the same devastated concrete as the floor, projects into the darkness, bending gently right as it disappears downward. The walls are earthen, but poorly trammeled, and small tumbles of earth have calved off into piles that scatter down the steps. There is a great, ragged respiration coming from deep inside the abyss, sallow and distant. It is only now that some part of my basal brain rebels, terrified of the Night beyond the door, howls at me to turn back.

I step forward into the blackness anyway, guided by the Voice.

There is no light but I feel along the walls, rotating ever left, stepping carefully. After a minute or two, a pale, green glimmer blooms beyond the curve of the wall, not exactly illuminating so much as throwing what had been hidden into hypersaturated relief.

When I reach the last step I have arrived in not a chamber, but rather a narrow channel, only wide enough for me to advance sideways. The green light is coming from everywhere and nowhere. The walls are solid rock, slicked with dampness. I run my palms along the smooth surface.

Halfway through the passage my steps are accompanied by crunching, chittering noises. When I look down, I can just make out my foot. Next to it is a staved-in skull, not bleached white but pocked with viscsera and gristle. Looking ahead are countless more skulls, ribs, and other bones, heaped in messy tangles. When I draw my hand back from the wall it’s covered in viscous oily blood, unmistakable even in the green phosphorescence.

Forward. Doesn’t matter any more. The way out is through.

The majority of the bones scatter to dust when I disturb their careful assemblages. Every inhale paired with a cough. Finally, as the passage opens, the graveyard thins. The vibrancy of the claustrophobic green fades to a watery ambience, less defined by green then by a yawning black.

When my eyes adjust, I can see the cave has expanded into a massive cavern, the bulbed ceiling overhead upheld by immense knarled pillars of rock that recede into blackness. From below they reach down like the tentacles of some hideously aged god. One of these, a massive stalactite, hangs to my left. Its drip-drip-drip sounds off seconds in the vast hollow, reverberating down unseen chicanes. I catch a drop in my palm and note it is also blood, squirming in my cupped hand.

I walk deeper into the cave. Away from the surface, into the involuting complex. The Voice narrates to me from inside my own head a vision of history collapsing on itself — the caves open to the air, swallowing St. Louis whole, plunging it back through history into deep time. Digging down is time travel. The open cave is a broken loop, a paradox. I can see it as it speaks: highways dragged like choppy ribbons across bottomless chasms, the Mississippi delicately pouring itself into the warrens over a rocky lip. The whole complex, slowly filling the entire to diluvian completion. Never mind the work will take centuries.

Hearing the Voice speak of ruin gives the devastation shape. In burst open concrete, hypnogogically perfect, I can read sedimentations of hatred like tree rings, Hemmingen’s strata being the darkest color of bile, but also ending furthest from where they began. The hideous rocketry of malice. The bowed floors of downtown towers close like a book on fate. I point myself out from the looping turbulence, poised at a fulcrum, or maybe an eye. As remote from the future as the Nameless is from me. Walking on the cavern floor is to ambulate through the once and future ruin of empire, walking a tightrope along an unbroken continuum of ruin that extends forever. Hemmingen’s landscape. The revolt of the caves. Revolve around the toroidal key. Heaven becomes hell. The whole world a sacrificial population.

Even more than Bartholomew, Hemmingen had found a comrade in time. An engine of will. A shaper of a black current. Stick the key in and break it off. The Voice says: It is only in making oneself a disciple of total dissolution, by waging jihad on form itself, that one can see their work completed. Tesselation is hubris. To design, to plan, is to fail: the only success is in making oneself a part of the slavering mob of time that is always waiting patiently. An architecture of patience. The entropic assault is at the gates: in the lost neighborhoods of Old St. Louis, boarded up houses sag to pieces and century-old bricks shatter in the wall.

All Hemmingen was doing in completing the work of the Nameless was inviting the utter nullity of Outside in, warmly, like an old friend.

Here in Babalon I am home. Passed through the Gate of the Secret. The Secret is the End. I know I will be meeting Peter here, soon. And Emily, and Sarah, and Alan, and everyone else.

The whole city will come down to me. Hemmingen did not fail because he could never succeed: the human cannot become the agent of the inhuman. All Hemmingen could do was identify and organize the process, and leave the rest. Time itself will happily take up the yoke. Coph Nia, the weeping mother, postpartum Medea, waiting at the end of the line. Weary and battered, drowning time in the bathwater. The Aeon will sunder on its own, and St. Louis will drift down and apart, sinking quietly into the soft alluvial mud, until this cavernous, rocky womb bursts open to once again accept its child.

Born of violence and dead of quietude, just like all the cities that had come before.

All there is to do now is wait.

Xenosystems: Memoirs of an Ongoing Infection

The story is too horrible to recall, but they tell me it is good that I ‘try to remember’. So here I am. It’s only appropriate that I should avoid recounting the vector which brought me to it, save to say that it arrived nonetheless. My first recollections date back to November (or was it October?) 2015. I was still human then.

A Fanged Noumena PDF had been circulating in some obscure tract of social media, and I’d eagerly seized upon it. I remember getting high from reading even the editors’ introduction out loud. The sound-waves were brain-altering. “O prazer desinibido não tende ao benefício do organismo, mas, antes, à sua imolação.” The madness in what was written was palpable. Insane, astounding.

Nick Land’s writings grasped my brain tightly. In no time I found myself, possessed, devouring page after page — as I painfully tried to conjure passable translations in my own tongue. The savoriness of transcoding such perfect compositions only added to the rush. Inhumanism, cybernetics, sacrilege, capitalism, dodging the Turing cops — and the power, the sheer power of the text — all made Fanged Noumena the kind of book I had only dreamed about.

Then, of course, there was 2016.

The one thing I hadn’t been able to fathom after reading Fanged Noumena was why Land had resurfaced after all those years. We now know why accelerationism was suddenly so important, but there was no way we could have seen it coming back then. I had been told about his recent blogs, and at one point I just had to check for myself — what the hell was going on there?

Given the option between a bright-side and a dark-side, where does one go? I had no doubts. Xenosystems was like the buried shrine of an ancient sacrificial cult, suddenly brought back to life by grave diggers… and monsters. “Involvements with reality”, indeed.

Hell-Baked” was the first post I ever read there. And it is probably the best summary of it: short, pungent, unapologetic, malignant in its indifference. It flows like poetry, a dark pestilent poem for that which lies beyond — “where be dragons”, as it says. It contained themes that made it both absolutely current and just simply unthinkable to my ilk.

I was enthralled by it all. The impact of someone saying clearly and articulately what you just couldn’t conceive of seconds before… it changes everything, if not in the healthiest of ways. I already felt the first symptoms: my beliefs melting down into a slimy mold of abomination, my brain reconfigured into a filthy vector of affliction, my body suspended in unlife.

Gripped by fever, I spent the next few months (years? it was so long ago) dealing with the monstrous compendium therein. I tried to follow some neat path, but linking is a labyrinth, and often I found myself wandering around in the so called ‘reactosphere’. Believe me, I saw all kinds of beasts. This dying angel in my head that kept screaming ‘get out of there, it’s dangerous!’ — now I only wish she had had its way. At the time, however, it was shot down as a Cathedral operative.

It gets hard to recall. “Try again tomorrow.”… In truth, I couldn’t penetrate that library of ungodliness any further, and was far too avid to be able to read it all from the beginning. So I resorted to translation once again.

Translation is an amazing mechanism. It is a kind of possession. You have to let the thought you’re translating inhabit your body, and use it to express itself again, in a new form. One could talk of impersonation, but demons have no masks, no faces, only names. It’s uploading, in a primitive form. And it was a way to hollow myself out, to inoculate myself against the delirium… precisely by spreading it further.

My mind buzzes in and out, but I persevere in the name of Gnon. It really must have been providence guiding my steps as I served faithfully as conduit for the electric pulse of Xenosystems. A daemonic providence, that’s for sure, but providence nonetheless. Doom, it said.

When I checked-in here, I was carrying some note, later lost in the haze of the early days of the treatment. Now I wonder what it said… The days of the translation blog were intoxicating, the missives transmitted smoothly, victims by the thousands. Visitors. They were eventually victimized, of course… I digress.

The thing is that by that point, I was really not myself anymore. Not physically disfigured — except for the claw marks I would find on my face upon waking up (they told me I had made them myself) — rather, something integral lacked. I wasn’t really anybody. I had become a swarm. An army of thought, slaying recklessly about. I figure that’s why it’s so hard to remember: memory was distributed. It reconfigured any sub-process to function accordingly. XS posts abounded with emergent AI tales, internet-based attention reconfiguration, and a sovereign Will-to-Think. It was only natural that it would eventually inscribe itself into our mind. “My mind.” They correct me all the time in here. “It was only you” — this fortunate person was never dissolved back into the process.

We only now noticed that they actually furnished us with a typewriter! Well, sort of. An authentic Amstrad PCW 8256. Cosmic irony? This machine has wrecked brighter and saner minds than ours before, what hope could we have? Back in the day, translations were made on any device available. It was an unquenchable thirst for adaptation.

We tried to provide some semblance of structure as we proceeded, making the texts thread in series of linked posts. Intelligence, then Social Darwinism, then Occultism. These discriminations got harder, though… Not out of any morality (we’ve come to lack the apparatus for that), but simply because it all blended into one insurmountable Gnon-flux.

Is it just us, or have the acoustics in here been designed specifically to accommodate laughter? The attendants are worried about our fever. Where could that note have gone? They are frightened by the metallic, doubled, coarse voice. Fortunate souls, their time will come. In time. More laughter.

In this rotting building, in this ancient city, the swarm has dwelt for a century at least now, or so it seems. Undead, some say. Unliving would be more precise. Time resets, speeds up, resets. This chair belongs to quite another aeon, a relic from the twenty-first century. The attendants have gone now. Were they afraid? Spread on the floor, like a serpent.

A sister enters the room, missed her face. Something dripping in an unmistakable way: A-Death approaches. The symptoms are clear. One last step must be taken before entering the Crypt and finally confronting so long buried a thing, that has used these means for propagation.

Epidemics have a secret: they’re fast, untraceable to origins. So this is not just the beginning.  va-tombstone1-03

The Revolving Door and The Straight Labyrinth: An Initiation in Occult Time (Part 0)

by Amy Ireland

And now, in that rise of masonry to which his eyes had been so irresistibly drawn, there appeared the outline of a titanic arch not unlike that which he thought he had glimpsed so long ago in that cave within a cave, on the far, unreal surface of the three­-dimensioned earth.[note]H.P. Lovecraft, “Through the Gates of the Silver Key“, The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories (London: Penguin, 2004), 278.[/note]


There is a short story by Jorge Luis Borges which details an elaborate game of geometrical entrapment.[note]Jorge Luis Borges, ‘Death and the Compass’, Fictions, trans. Andrew Hurley (London: Penguin, 1998) 111-23.[/note] The game is at once a temporal and spatio-cartographic one. It is played over a period of four months, on the fourth of each month, across a series of cardinal coordinates: a hotel in the North, a paint factory in the West, a tavern in the East, and an abandoned villa in the water-logged southern outskirts of the story’s unidentified city. The players are the police detective Erik Lönnrot, and his nemesis, a Barcelona gangster known as ‘Red’ Scharlach.

Knowing Lönnrot to be one of those peculiar creatures that prefers a well-wrought puzzle to the legislative drudgery of trying and condemning a criminal, Scharlach exploits the accidental murder of a Jewish mystic to compose a false, rhomboidal “labyrinth” (as he refers to it), whose contours prove irresistible to the “recklessly perspicacious” mind of the detective.[note]Ibid., 111. Sharlach describes the vision that preceded his construction of the puzzle, haunted by the double-faced statue of Hermes that stands in the garden of the Villa Triste-le-Roi: “Nine days and nine nights I lay between life and death in the desolate symmetrical villa, consumed by fever, and that hateful two-faced Janus that looks toward the sunset and the dawn lent horror to my deliriums and my sleeplessness. I came to abominate my own body, I came to feel that two eyes, two hands, two lungs are as monstrous as two faces. […] I sensed that the world was a labyrinth, impossible to escape — for all roads, even if they pretended to lead north or south, returned finally to Rome, which was also the rectangular prison where my brother lay dying, which was also the Villa Triste-le-Roi. During those nights, I swore by the god that sees with two faces, and by all the gods of fever and mirrors, to weave a labyrinth around the man who had imprisoned my brother.” 121.[/note] There are just enough false clues hidden in the puzzle to seduce Lönnrot into believing his solution, which he arrives at by following an incomplete pattern of fours — from the enigmatic declaration that ‘the [nth] letter of the Name has been written’ left at the scene of each crime, invoking the four letters of Tetragrammaton with the third as yet unwritten; to the fact that the three murders thus far composing the puzzle, although exoterically committed on the third of each month, can be esoterically understood as having been committed on the fourth; the adjacency to each of the three victims of a quadrilateral figure of some kind, and the situation of the three crimes at cardinal points on the city’s map: North, West, and East. Drawing a rhombus to connect the points, and with that revealing the location where the fourth murder will take place, Lönnrot delivers himself directly — although a day too early — into the hands of Scharlach and his goons, who are waiting for him in at the fourth cardinal point, the Villa Triste-le-Roy.    

An intriguing passage follows:

For the last time, Lönnrot considered the problem of the symmetrical, periodic murders.

“There are three lines too many in your labyrinth,” he said at last. “I know of a Greek labyrinth that is but one straight line. So many philosophers have been lost upon that line that a mere detective might be pardoned if he became lost as well. When you hunt me down in another avatar of our lives, Scharlach, I suggest that you fake (or commit) one crime at A, a second crime at B, eight kilometres from A, then a third crime at C, four kilometres from A and B and halfway between them. Then wait for me at D, two kilometres from A and C, once again, halfway between them. Kill me at D, as you are about to kill me at Triste-le-Roy.”

“The next time I kill you,” Scharlach replied, I promise you the labyrinth that consists of a single straight line that is invisible and incessant.”

He stepped back a few steps. Then, very carefully, he fired.[note]Hurley’s “invisible and endless” has been replaced with the English translation of this indirectly cited phrase (“invisible, incessant”) in Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (NY: Columbia University Press, 1994), 111.[/note]

The weapon is discharged. The story ends. Does the bullet collide with the living body of Lönnrot? Borges refrains from telling us.

Another two stories. A horror story and a philosophical meltdown (with one enveloped in the other).


Lovecraft’s “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”, is less a document of geometrical entrapment than one of geometrical fuite — a French word that designates both liquefaction and escape. Its protagonist, Randolph Carter, unlike those unfortunate, ‘enlightened’ men of science, who dominate the bulk of Lovecraft’s stories, seems to know precisely what he’s getting into when he returns to a “cave within a cave” known as the “Snake Den” in the wooded countryside of his youth to perform a series of rituals by means of the mysterious titular “Silver Key”.[note]H.P. Lovecraft, “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”, 278; 266.
“A fold is always folded within a fold, like a cavern in a cavern. The unit of matter, the smallest element of the labyrinth, is the fold, not the point which is never a part, but a simple extremity of the line.” Gilles Deleuze, The Fold (New York: Continuum, 2001), 6.[/note] On the day of his expedition to the cave, the 7th of October, 1928, Carter vanishes from the world, leaving behind a parked car containing a piece of parchment scattered with bizarre characters that “no man could read” and his expansive estate, containing a significant collection of esoteric lore and occult artefacts. Four years later, a close friend of Carter’s, Etienne-­Laurent de Marigny; a Providence mystic, Ward Philips, and the Chicago lawyer, Ernest B. Aspinwall, convene in de Maringny’s apartment to determine the future of the Carter estate. Phillips and de Marigny, susceptible to the irrationality of their spiritual backgrounds, aren’t convinced that Carter is dead. Aspinwall, on the other hand, is perhaps too eager to confirm Carter’s death and divide the estate (of which, as a cousin, he is owed a small part). A third figure who has promised to deliver important information concerning Carter’s disappearance is invited to the meeting, the Swami Chandraputra, an “adept from Benares” and alleged confidant of Carter’s.[note]H.P. Lovecraft, “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”, 268.[/note]

The narrative that follows centres on the Swami’s account of Carter’s journey, which he claims to have received via the medium of dreams. He tells of Carter’s performance of the rite of the Silver Key in the Snake Den, of his traversal of the “First Gate” and subsequent admittance to “the earth’s trans-dimensional extension”, where Carter is said to have been subjected to

a strange, awesome mutation… a sense of incalculable disturbance and confusion in time and space, yet one which held no hint of what we recognise as motion and duration. [Punctuated, nevertheless, by] some perceptible rhythm… a faint, cryptical pulse. […] Now, there was neither cave nor absence of cave; neither wall nor absence of wall. There was only a flux of impressions not so much visual as cerebral, amidst which the entity that was Randolph Carter experienced perceptions or registrations of all that his mind revolved on, yet without any clear consciousness of the way in which he received them.[note]Ibid., 278.[/note]

Carter is then given the choice to venture even further along the trajectory he has embarked upon, and passes first through a vast, abyssal void, before fully succumbing to a total “sense of lost orientation”, feeling himself

wafted into immeasurable depths, with waves of perfumed warmth lapping against his face. It was as if he floated in a torrid, rose-­tinctured sea; a sea of drugged wine whose waves broke foaming against shores of brazen fire. [T]he surgings were speaking to him in a language that was not of physical sound or articulate words. “The man of Truth is beyond good and evil”, intoned a voice that was not a voice. […] “The man of Truth has learnt that Illusion is the only reality, and that substance is an impostor.”[note]Ibid.[/note]

The profound element of horror in “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” is affirmed — imminently — as a loss of unified identity, while the waves divide and carry what Carter took to be himself across the vertiginous and unintelligible dimensionality of distended time-space, that “final cosmic reality which belies all local perspectives and narrow partial views”.[note]Ibid, 284.[/note] As he goes on to cross the threshold of the “Ultimate Gate” he relinquishes the last tenuous grasp he had retained on selfhood and personal embodiment in a dissolution that transgresses form itself. Thus unmoored, amidst a “chaos of scenes whose infinite multiplicity and monstrous diversity brought him close to the brink of madness”, the Carter-entity apprehends the limitations of the earthly notion of a tridimensional world and “what an infinity of directions there are besides the known directions of up-­down, forward-backward, right­-left”.[note]Ibid., 284. This is followed by a description of the splintering of Carter’s identity, strewn across the breadth-less infinity of cosmic time: “All descended lines of beings of the finite dimensions, continued the waves, and all stages of growth in each one of these beings, are merely manifestations of one archetypal and eternal being in the space outside dimensions. Each local being — son, father, grandfather, and so on — and each stage of individual being — infant, child, boy, young man, old man — is merely one of the infinite phases of that same archetypal and eternal being, caused by a variation in the angle of the consciousness-plane which cuts it. Randolph Carter at all ages; Randolph Carter and all his ancestors both human and pre-human, terrestrial and pre-terrestrial; all these were only phases of one ultimate, eternal ‘Carter’ outside space and time — phantom projections differentiated only by the angle at which the plane of consciousness happened to cut the eternal archetype in each case. A slight change of angle could turn the student of today into the child of yesterday; could turn Randolph Carter into that wizard Edmund Carter who fled from Salem to the hills behind Arkham in 1692, or that Pickman Carter who in the year 2169 would use strange means in repelling the Mongol hordes from Australia; could turn a human Carter into one of those earlier entities which had dwelt in primal Hyperborea and worshipped black, plastic Tsathoggua after flying down from Kythanil, the double planet that once revolved around Arcturus; could turn a terrestrial Carter to a remotely ancestral and doubtfully shaped dweller on Kythanil itself, or a still remoter creature of trans-galactic Shonhi, or a four-dimensioned gaseous consciousness in an older space-time continuum, or a vegetable brain of the future on a dark radio-active comet of inconceivable orbit — and so on, in the endless cosmic circle.” Ibid., 285. Nietzsche’s mad invocation, “I am all the names in history” finds a counterpart here. Friedrich Nietzsche, “Letter to Burkhardt, 6 January, 1989”,The New Nietzsche, ed. David Allison (New York: Dell, 1977), 36.[/note]

‘Here’ the incessant pulse of the waves apprises Carter of the knowledge that, by changing the angle of transection of the intensive plane he finds himself on, he can access any of the fragments of Carter-being produced upon it, wherever they may be located in cosmic time, and at whatever point they might happen to occupy in the vast spatiality of a trans-dimensional manifold. Fulfilling a long held desire to know more of that “dim, fantastic world whose five multi­coloured suns, alien constellations, dizzy black crags, clawed, tapir­-snouted denizens, bizarre metal towers, unexplained tunnels, and cryptical floating cylinders” which had long haunted his dreams, he takes advantage of his openness to all possible manifestations of Carter-being to voyage to a distant cosmos, escorted by “a whirring and drumming that swell[s] to a terrific thundering” and “[b]ands and rays of colour utterly foreign to any spectrum of our universe”. When he returns to individuated form, he discovers his body reconfigured, “rugose, partly squamous, and curiously articulated in a fashion mainly insect­-like yet not without a caricaturish resemblance to the human outline”. He recognises the Silver Key, “still in his grasp — though held by a noxious­-looking claw”.[note]H.P. Lovecraft, “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”, 288.[/note]

In a voice that has been growing progressively hoarser and even at times taking on a “forced, hollow, metallic quality”, the Swami concludes his tale by explaining how, lost in a distant universe, Carter — now in the form of the wizard Zkauba of Yaddith — discovers he has left the parchment containing the incantation required to return to the intensive plane beyond the Ultimate Gate behind, and thus surrendered his capacity to discover further possibilities of trans-personal incarnation. For immeasurable aeons, Zkauba wages an internal war with the memories retained from his life as Randolph Carter, with the Carter-splinter eventually gaining the upper claw and engineering a way to travel back to earth by means of a metallically-fortified “light­-wave envelope” to recuperate the forgotten parchment.[note]Ibid., 268; 290.[/note] Succeeding in this mission, but trapped in the crustaceous form of a creature from Yaddith, Carter wears a human disguise, masking his alien face and articulated claws, and proceeds to establish a tenuous habitation among the denizens of 1930s-Boston’s dubious West End. Reading of plans to dissolve his estate in the local newspaper, Carter sends the Swami to vouch for his continued existence and obstruct the imminent loss of his treasured library, including the original copy of the coveted parchment, before it is too late. So goes the story as it is related by the Swami.

The lawyer, Aspinwall, is unconvinced by this revelation. Sensing foul-play, he attempts to wrench what he is now confident is a mask from the face of the suspected interloper, eliciting a cry of protest from the Swami that manifests as nothing more than “a wholly inexplicable rattling and buzzing sound”.[note]Ibid., 297.[/note] The lawyer succeeds in removing the disguise, revealing an image which is only rendered negatively in the description of Aspinwall’s expression, “convuls[ing] with a wilder, deeper, and more hideous epilepsy of stark panic than ever seen on human countenance before”.[note]Ibid.[/note] As Aspinwall expires from the inundation of pure shock, the Swami — now understood to be Randolph Carter himself — overspills his human form and, more Zkauba than Carter, shuffles towards the corner of the room in which stands “a curious coffin­-shaped clock”, its dial decorated in “baffling hieroglyphs, and whose four hands [do] not move in consonance with any time system known on this planet”. The “alien rhythm” of the clock’s “abnormal ticking”, complemented by “the bubbling of the courtyard fountain beyond half-curtained, fan-lighted windows”, has haunted the meeting since the beginning.[note]Ibid., 295-7.[/note] Phillips and de Marigny look on in sudden apprehension, as the inhuman figure that has replaced Swami Chandraputra approaches the coffin-shaped clock, enters it — with difficulty due to its pincer-like appendages — and vanishes once and for all. 

“Through the Gates of the Silver Key” is, beyond all else, a story about rhythm, and the bulk of Lovecraft’s baroque prose is dedicated to integrally evasive descriptions of the quality of the pulsing waves of energy (often described as light on spectrums inaccessible to human vision) that assail Carter as he carries out his rites and descends ever deeper and into the sensible abyss beneath individuated being. Is it not insignificant that the last word of the tale is delivered, not by de Marigny or Phillips — the two characters still inhabiting the realm of the living, extended intelligibly in space and time — but by the ticks of the coffin-shaped clock as it tempts de Marigny, alone in his study, to follow the path of his friend’s strange flight. 


In a manner not incommensurate with Lönnrot’s prediction of his own return in an avatar of another life, Carter will resurface — reconfigured once more — in the body of Professor Challenger as he appears, abducted from the Conan Doyle stories, in “The Geology of Morals”, the third plateau of Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus.[note]Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (New York: Continuum, 2004).[/note] A magical reading of the plateau would posit the lecture delivered by Challenger as an act of misdirection at the level of geometry (an explication of the hydraulics of stratification, which enfolds the greater controversy of the plateau at least one more time in the debate between Cuvier and Geoffrey: “Cuvier reflects a Euclidean space, whereas Geoffrey thinks topologically”) — a ‘misdirection’ in the sense that explication is always secondary to demonstration.[note]Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 53.  (A second fold comprises the entirety of Deleuze’s philosophy: an interior exteriority animates the form of the plateau, like that which inheres in the simultaneity of the abstract machine and the strata.) Meanwhile, Deleuze and Guattari resolve the debate in Geoffrey’s favour: “Strata are topological, and Geoffrey is the great artist of the fold, a formidable artist; as such, he already has a presentiment of a certain kind of animal rhizome with aberrant paths of communication — Monsters.” Ibid.[/note] The trick occurs elsewhere, in the background, or better — at the level of the frame itself — which details the transfiguration and eventually, the disarticulation, of Challenger as he passes between and beneath the quadripartite net of content and expression.

The relationship between “The Geology of Morals” and “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” is implicit in the use of narrative devices and the recurrence of indirectly cited passages lifted directly from Lovecraft’s story, in a dosage that accumulates apace of the successive stages of Challenger’s disarticulation. Just as Carter is forced to contend with his lawyer’s incredulity, Challenger’s audience is hostile to the professor’s claims (citing “numerous misunderstandings, misinterpretations and… misappropriations”); his student Alasca, like de Marigny and Phillips, attempts (“hypocritically” — for justification makes the mistake of pre-supposing and thereby legitimating a tribunal) to defend his teaching; he begins to lose his voice, which like Carter’s “become[s] hoarser, broken occasionally by an apish cough” as later, “[s]omething animalistic in him [begins] to speak” before, “suffocating”, he threatens to lose it altogether.[note]Ibid., 48; 68; 72; 80. “When we then learn that the concept of truth in representation is divided into two directions, one according to which the true emerges in person and in an intuition, the other according to which the true is always inferred from something else, concluded from clues as that which is not there, we have no trouble in finding beneath these traditional theories of intuition and induction the dynamisms of the inquisition or the confession, of the accusation or the enquiry, which work in silence and dramatically, such that it determines the theoretical division of the concept.” Gilles Deleuze, “The Method of Dramatisation”, Desert Islands and Other Texts, trans. Michael Taormina (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2002), 99.[/note] Like Carter behind the mask of the Swami, Challenger has two faces, and losing his gloves, it is revealed that his hands have been transformed into pincers. As “he” (the masculine pronoun is questioned by Deleuze and Guattari) quite literally melts down, the liquid streaming from his tunic deforms the lecture hall itself, blurring the frame and bringing into focus another room — “hung with strangely figured arras” and suffused with the fumes of burning olibanum, as if it had been concealed behind the lecture hall all along.[note]Ibid. 48; 81; Lovecraft, “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”, 264; 299.[/note] This is the description given by Lovecraft of de Marigny’s study, with its fountain burbling in the courtyard beyond, and the coffin-shaped clock stationed “deep in a niche on one side”.[note]Lovecraft, “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”, 264.[/note] The penultimate scene of “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” continues to intrude upon the narrative. Aspinwall’s panicked expression as he is confronted by Carter’s alien form appears word-for-word on the figure of a “young woman” — and, as we are told that what-remains-of-Challenger “slowly hurrie[s] toward the plane of consistency”, slipping into “an assemblage serving as a drum-gate, the particle-Clock with its intensive ticking and conjugated rhythms hammering out the absolute”, Lovecraft’s prose overflows definitively, consuming the final paragraph of the plateau with the description of Carter’s disappearance into the coffin-shaped particle-clock.[note]Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 82. “The figure slumped oddly into a posture scarcely human, and began a curious, fascinated sort of shuffle toward the coffin-shaped clock. … The figure had now reached the abnormal clock, and the watchers saw through the dense fumes a blurred black claw fumbling with the tall, hieroglyphed door. The fumbling made a queer, clicking sound. Then the figure entered the coffin-shaped case and pulled the door shut after it. … The abnormal clicking went on, beating out the dark, cosmic rhythm which underlies all mystical gate-openings…”. Ibid.[/note] 

On the level of philosophical exposition, “The Geology of Morals” introduces the notions of territorialisation, deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation in relation to a system of stratification (where they operate relatively) and in relation to the plane of consistency (where deterritorialisation alone operates absolutely), alongside a nonlinear, topological, architecture of modes of organisation between them. The strata and the plane of consistency do not describe a dualism, and there is no necessary successive priority within the strata (although the plateau begins, importantly, by intimating one), which determine their configurations via relations of reciprocity — this relation at its most abstract level is referred to as a biunivocal one, a double articulation tagged by the image the pincers in the chapter (strata are the “judgement[s] of God” and “God is a lobster”).[note]Ibid., 49; 45.[/note]

Although it does not precede the strata temporally or spatially, the absolute deterritorialisation of the plane of consistency is “primary” and always immanent to all forms of territorialisation, deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation.[note]Ibid., 63.[/note] It relates to the strata in a unilateral movement, constituting the outer edge of an angle of envelopment which enfolds them all in its virtuality. It is not an essence but a function, and its function is nothing more constitutive than to allow for and constrain the movements of deterritorialisation, territorialisation and reterritorialisation that occur upon it. It is not formal or substantial, but the virtual enablement of form and substance — doubly organised under the twin pincers of content and expression.

Because they define a topological space-time, the strata are in communication with the plane of consistency at any given point, and this channel is both opened and closed by the Janus-faced abstract machine, with its two surfaces: the Ecumenon and the Planomenon. One bears outward, further into the consolidation of its particular stratum, the other bears inwards, towards the plane of consistency: the Planomenon is always capable of undoing the stratifications gathered around the Ecumenic resonator of the abstract machine. Whether it tends one way or another is determined by its intensive state at any particular point. The abstract machines, being definitionally ‘abstract’ (as Deleuze explains elsewhere — abstractions contain two components, one which is given in representation and the other which is not) are real but not actual, and are effectuated in the strata by a concrete machinic assemblage.[note]Gilles Deleuze, Lectures on Kant (28/3/1978), “Les cours de Gilles Deleuze”,
[/note] Abstract machines are thereby the non-concrete (i.e. transcendental) counterparts of machinic assemblages which operationalise — in individuated, extensive space-time — their territorialising, deterritorialising or reterritorialising functions.

Finally, the plane of consistency — destination of the dissolving Challenger — has three aspects: an intensive continuum, emissions of particles-signs, and conjunctions of flow. This is the immanent, virtual structuration or ‘diagram’ that potentiates the erection of the system of strata. The intensive continuum is the energetic flatline, with its capacity for intensive spikes; particles-signs are latent units of content and expression (articulating both forms and substances) prior to their distinction as such on the strata by the Ecumenic face of the abstract machines and their attached machinic assemblages; the flows are separated out and channeled into various strata as their territorialisations and relative deterritorialisations or reterritorialisations. If this sounds obscure or oblique, it is because the plane of consistency can only truly be delineated in terms of a Lovecraftian evasion, the kind fundamental to cosmic horror, whose rule is to refrain from the positive description of the thing that is haunting the story’s protagonist. Deleuze and Guattari do offer a concession of sorts — “The plane is like a row of doors.”[note]Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 559. “Glancing backward, he saw not one gate alone, but a multiplicity of gates, at some of which clamoured Forms he strove not to remember.” Lovecraft, “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”, 279.[/note] Lovecraft provides a clue from the other side:

Carter always spoke of being on the point of solving the mystery, though he never gave details. Once he grew almost poetic about the whole business. That antique Silver Key, he said, would unlock the successive doors that bar our free march down the mighty corridors of space and time to the very Border which no man has crossed… [note]Lovecraft, “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”, 268.[/note]

For English speakers, there is a curious translational occultism apparent in the final, important paragraph of the third plateau — a plateau which makes a great deal of translation (which, when confined to specific human languages is presented as being bound to stratic constraints, obscured by the idea that one language can simply be made “to ‘represent’ the givens of another language”: it is always a question of different abstract machines) — where “la porte-tambour”, the assemblage employed by Challenger as his means of escape, otherwise referred to as the particle-clock, is translated by Brian Massumi as “the drum-gate”.[note]Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 69; 82; Deleuze et Guattari, Mille plateaux (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1980), 94.[/note] Literally rendered in English, ‘la porte-tambour’ does indeed mean ‘the door-drum’, and Massumi has his reasons, for Lovecraft’s doors or gates are deeply connected to rhythm and, quite often, the sound of drumming. But there is another denotation of ‘porte-tambour’ in French which is entirely overlooked and of huge significance to Deleuze. It can also mean ‘revolving-door’. The machinic assemblage of the particle-clock is both a drum-gate — and a revolving doorThe Silver Key of the “Geology of Morals”.

What is so important about the particle-clock? What does it mean for Challenger to have departed, without going anywhere, for this curious, inchoate ‘plane of consistency’? Is there a connection between the labyrinths of Lönnrot and Scharlach, and the enigma of the revolving door? Why does Lönnrot ascribe a history of philosophical unease to the figure of the straight line? Deleuze and Guattari tell us more than Borges or Lovecraft do, but it hardly constitutes a solution…

Misosophy: The Shadows of the Transcendental


by Laurence Kent

Thought is primarily trespass and violence, the enemy, and nothing presupposes philosophy: everything begins with misosophy.

Gilles Deleuze[note]Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (1968; New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 139.[/note]

A philosophy of horror inevitably reaches transcendental limits; it is thought itself which is born in the shadowy depths of a horrific sublime. Nick Land screeches in the void that “horror first encounters ‘that’ which philosophy eventually seeks to know”, and we will trace this pre-philosophical trauma of thinking in the abstract spaces of German Expressionist cinema.[note]Nick Land, “Abstract Horror (Part 1),” Outside In (blog), August 21, 2013,[/note]

The Discordant Harmony of the Sublime

For Kant, the sublime is a form of aesthetic judgement that arises when the faculty of imagination is stretched beyond its limits. This violence done to the imagination in the face of a formless presence of ungraspable immensity or power creates a negative pleasure. In the wake of imagination’s inadequacy, the Ideas of reason take over, proving that “the mind has a power surpassing any standard of sense”.[note]Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. Mary J. Gregor and Werner S. Pluhar (1790; Indianapolis, Ind: Hackett Publishing, 1987), 106.[/note] Kant divides the sublime into mathematical and dynamic variants, depending on whether the encounter is with an immense magnitude, stretching our “cognitive power”, or if an unimaginable might is presented, stretching our “power of desire”.[note]Ibid., 101.[/note]

However, the concept of the sublime is not merely an aesthetic category in Gilles Deleuze’s reading of Kant, and in fact provides support for the transcendental faculties. The sublime marks an important step in the communication between faculties; it confronts us with a direct subjective relationship between imagination and reason. What makes this relationship important is that, unlike the free play of imagination and understanding that takes place in the judgement of the beautiful, the sublime brings the faculties into a discordant harmony. The sublime points to the genesis of the faculties’ accord in discord. The third critique grounds the first two critiques, but at the same time undermines the presence of a stable ground or natural harmony between our thinking faculties. The sublime indexes the groundless ground of apperception.

We thus find a violence at the birth of thought, a traumatic encounter with an outside that cannot be assimilated — something that can only ever be problematic to thinking; as Land writes, “the sublime is only touched upon as pathological disaster”.[note]Nick Land, “Delighted to Death,” in Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987-2007, ed. Robin Mackay and Ray Brassier (Falmouth, UK: Urbanomic, 2011), 135.[/note] Something is sensed which is imperceptible, something is thought which must remain unthought. This is the transcendental exercise of the faculties: when a faculty takes its own limit as its object – not empirical or part of the given, but the genesis of the empirical, that by which the given is given.

Gothic Geometry

To flesh out some of these claims, we turn to Deleuze’s analysis of German Expressionism in Cinema 1, and especially his take on Robert Wiene’s 1921 film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Deleuze’s analysis of German cinema lies in the shadows of art historian Wilhelm Worringer. Art, for Worringer, exists because it fulfils certain psychic needs, and this will to form of artistic creation shifts with historical epoch depending on the relationship between humans and their environment. Worringer theorizes two urges that dominate the history of art: empathy and abstraction. The psychic condition that gives rise to artworks displaying the urge to empathy is “a happy pantheistic relationship of confidence between man and the phenomena of the external world”; empathetic art features naturalistic and organic aspects that allow the perceiver to enjoy their inner feeling of vitality.[note]Wilhelm Worringer, Abstraction and Empathy: A Contribution to the Psychology of Style, trans. Michael Bullock (1908; Mansfield Centre, Conn.: Martino Fine Books, 2014), 15.[/note] Abstract art, on the other hand, is created to fulfil a psychic need arising from “a great inner unrest inspired in man by the phenomena of the outside world”.[note]Ibid., 15.[/note] Abstraction soothes these psychological stresses through an encounter with a geometrical absolute where in the contemplation of abstract regularity the perceiver is delivered from tension, finding happiness in the presence of the “ultimate morphological law”.[note]Ibid., 36.[/note]

This culminates in a bizarre synthesis of empathy and abstraction that Worringer discerns in the Gothic. In the art and ornaments of pre-Renaissance Northern Europe, Worringer observes a rejection of the organic that does not fully align with the abstraction and regularity of earlier artistic periods. There is vitality but no trace of organic and naturalistic features, an indication of the inner disharmony and unclarity of the psychic landscapes in Northern Europe, a “restless life contained in [a] tangle of lines”.[note]Ibid., 77.[/note] This is the aesthetic basis for Expressionism, defined by Worringer as “that uncanny pathos which attaches to the animation of the inorganic”.[note]Ibid.[/note]

Worringer’s Gothic line is of utmost importance to Deleuze-Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus as they use it to underline their concept of the nomadic or abstract line, and more broadly their theory of art as abstract machine: the creation of striated and smooth spaces.[note]For a reading of Worringer’s influence on Deleuze-Guattari that completely excises empathy, see: Mark Fisher, “Flatline Constructs: Gothic Materialism and Cybernetic Theory-Fiction,” PhD Thesis, University of Warwick, 1999.[/note] For Deleuze-Guattari: “the abstract line is the affect of smooth spaces, not a feeling of anxiety that calls forth striation”.[note]Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (1980; Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 497.[/note] Smooth space is the space of pure intensities, in contrast to the transcendental illusion of striated space, which is segmented and ordered. Smooth space is an aesthetic model that explicates the way abstraction can express intensities, and opposed to any idea of abstraction as purely rectilinear geometric absolutes. Abstract lines do not represent anything, but are lines of pure expression, abstract productions that uncover the transcendental conditions of production itself.

The Dread of Space


In Cinema 1, Deleuze analyses the themes and aesthetic strategies of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari through the production of space in the film, the “striated, striped world” created through set design and lighting.[note]Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (1983; Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 50.[/note] By drawing lines of flight between Deleuze and his work with Guattari, these concerns can be understood alongside the framework of the striated/smooth demarcations of space conceptualized in A Thousand Plateaus. It is impossible to truly separate processes of striation and smoothing, and Deleuze-Guattari instead state that the two spaces exist only in mixture. However, they identify a de jure distinction between the two processes of space production. It is this abstract distinction that we will trace by first focusing on the methods of striation to be found in Dr. Caligari.

From the moment that the story flashes back to the town where the protagonist, Francis, used to live, the painted and artificial nature of the set is obvious. The jagged lines abstract from any possible reality a strange terror, the pointed houses themselves forming a pointed hill of impossible proportions. The first image of the town is clearly an abstract depiction of a setting, and the lack of depth in the image can be understood through Worringer’s conception of the “dread of space”. This kind of abstraction works by marking an attempt to escape from reality and is what Worringer terms an “emancipation from all the contingency and temporality of the world-picture”.[note]Worringer, Abstraction and Empathy, 44.[/note]  However, it is clear that the affect of this crooked image is far from a respite for the spectator, and could more accurately be described a space of dread. This is where Worringer’s hybrid of abstraction and empathy is important. The abstraction present in the backdrop of Dr. Caligari displays a contradictory urge: both to abstraction but also to the embrace of a form of vitality. Allowing no distinction of form and background to arise, the crooked shapes and the broken lines are imbued with a twisted life of their own, a strange inorganic vitality that produces oppressive atmospheres and violent affects.

Caligari stage

The way the characters move in Dr. Caligari can be understood as an extension of these design principles; indeed, Lotte Eisner observes that the acting is “like the broken angles of the sets” with movements that “never go beyond the limits of a given geometrical plane”.[note]Lotte H. Eisner, The Haunted Screen: Expressionism in the German Cinema and the Influence of Max Reinhardt, trans. Roger Greaves (1969; Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 25.[/note] This is thus a different kind of stratification of space, where the lines from set to character leave no separation of set and figure intact. A scene which displays the geometries of horror in the actors’ performances is the first awakening of the somnambulist Cesare. Interestingly, the background set of the stage in Caligari’s spectacle is relatively bare, with only a few jagged lines on Cesare’s coffin displaying the expressionistic impulse. But it is these lines that become intermingled with the crooked movements of both Caligari and his captured performer. Cesare slowly emerges from his box, Caligari watching him and presenting his spectacle to the audience with his rigid arms, extended and emphasized by the use of sticks in both hands. Cesare slowly walks from his box, his eyes seemingly on us the audience, a shock of self-reflexivity as we participate in the spectacle. Caligari edges out of the way, his legs straight and pushed together, his artificially extended arms pulling limited geometric poses. This is interspersed with reaction shots of the audience, the characters Francis and Allen picked out by the lighting. Their acting is more naturalistic, a trace of the organic contrasting heavily with the inorganic vitality that finds expression in the rigid movements of the characters on stage. Caligari’s and Cesare’s acting is described by Rudolf Kurtz as achieving a “dynamic synthesis of their being”, and it is the ability they have to striate the space of the image that synthesises the terror of the set design and the tension inherent in the actors’ small deliberate movements;[note]Rudolf Kurtz, Expressionism and Film, trans. Brenda Benthien (1926; Herts, UK: Indiana University Press, 2016).[/note]  each body part is separate, and the organic totality of the human is lost to unknown forces controlling the characters. Cesare is the puppet of Caligari, Caligari is being controlled by madness, and perhaps both are on the strings of delirium from Francis’ troubled mind.


Caligari stage reaction

The lighting in Dr. Caligari works in a similar way to the acting and set design, creating spaces full of jagged lines and confusing angles. Although making a distinction between the effect of the lighting and other aspects of the mise en scène is not truly a feature of the film itself, it is through the use of lighting that we can explicate the creation of smooth space, the space of intensities. To do so, it is important first to understand the metaphysical ramifications of intensity for Deleuze as propounded in Difference and Repetition. Deleuze posits that “intensity is the form of difference in so far as this is the reason of the sensible”.[note]Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, 222.[/note] Intensity is difference-in-itself, the production of the sensible that, being its genesis, cannot be sensed. Thus, not being actual or actualisable, the notion of intensity refers to virtual events wherein any variation produces a change in the whole. This is prior to the transcendental illusion that produces measurements of extensity where quantities can be added on to each other (say time or distance). An intensive difference cannot be divided or added up in the same way. Instead, intensity marks a difference in the quality of the whole. However, we never experience intensity as, being virtual, it is only through the actualization of intensive quantities in extension or quality that intensity is grasped. Intensive quantities thus express a smooth space, away from the striation of things in terms of extension and against the understanding of the world as multiplicities upon a stable ground, the transcendental illusion of unchanging whole to which things take positions that do not change their sense.

For Deleuze, light in German Expressionism is “a potent movement of intensity, intensive movement par excellence”.[note]Deleuze, Cinema 1, 49.[/note] Light expresses an intense contrast with shadow, wherein darkness is not the negative of light but black as intensity=0. Light is thus an intensive quantity wherein the differences between light and shadow mark a virtual struggle on the scale from the zero-point of negation, and every variation expresses and actualises these virtual events in a change in the quality of the whole of the image. In Dr. Caligari, this manifests itself in the increasing tension and terror of sequences involving the somnambulist Cesare. As Cesare sneaks through the town, making his way to Lucy to commit murder, he emerges from the shadows near the door to her house. His body retains the darkness, dressed completely in black; he sticks to the wall as he advances, his shadow indistinguishable from his figure, the virtual flip-side of his actual materiality. Cesare enters Lucy’s room through a window, and his shadow skirts the lit wall as he slowly approaches Lucy’s bed, a spread of virginal white. His movements and body are a function of light and darkness, and every movement affects the whole of the image, heightening the violent affects in this intensive battle of light.

Caligari Ceasare sneaking.gif



Thus, although the world of dread created in Dr. Caligari is full of striated spaces, these spaces are always on the verge of smoothing out, expressing the intensive quantities of light to produce the movements of affect in the image. The actors intrude on the sets as forms of striation, but as they become indistinguishable from the background there is a smoothing of their organic forms — but this process is one of constant oscillation as the characters dissolve from extended figures to intensive movements and back again, different forms of striation emerging from the smooth with bizarre new impetuses. To return to the aesthetics of Worringer, just as the abstraction of the sets and characters is imbued with the strange vitality usually enacted under Worringer’s conception of empathetic art, the striated and smooth are in constant mixtures, strange hybrids. As the organic representation of a world of divisions and striations starts to crumble under the non-organic life which rumbles in the virtual lines of smooth spaces, the film affects us in a more profound sense; it, argues Deleuze, “unleashes in our soul a non-psychological life of the spirit”.[note]Ibid., 54.[/note] This is the point where horror becomes sublime.

The sublime violence done to our imagination is the destruction of the organic, it is what Deleuze calls “difference as catastrophe” that acts “under the apparent equilibrium of organic representation”.[note]Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, 35.[/note] Organicism in cinema is defined by Deleuze as a sense of the whole: “a great organic unity”.[note]Deleuze, Cinema 1, 30.[/note] However, with cinema such as German Expressionism, which instead privileges the inorganic vitality of things, this sense of the unchanging whole is lost. Not only is the organic conception of the image undone but by doing violence to the spectator’s imagination in presenting an impossible whole, an intensity that can never be contained in sensibility, this invokes a destruction of the spectator’s organic being: the inorganic life overwhelms us in a dynamic sublime. This is the violence from which thought is born. We now see how the sublime is connected with the aesthetic strategies of intensive quantities: the unity of representation as a form of common-sense — in other words, apperception under the aegis of the imagination — is shown as the transcendental illusion that it is, and our higher faculties encounter the intensive movements beneath, the smooth spaces underlining the striation of thinking is revealed, forging in us an empathetic link to non-organic forces that give vitality to abstract lines.


The aesthetic regime of horror becomes metaphysical as it traverses the problematic origin of the faculties. Horror is important and, indeed, enjoyable as it uncovers the discord beneath the harmony of thinking that we classify as good and common sense. This harmony is thus not pre-established, but instead produced from an original contingent trauma. The non-necessity of our common-sense opens up the possibility of a different harmony, a different image of thought. Horror may not appeal to us on the surface (it is of course horrible) but it appeals to us as a “people to come” — the pain of the present being ungrounded and the pleasure of a world of pure difference: the future ravages the now.

If philosophy can never clearly think the unthought limit of thought, we find in horror a misosophy; the discord from which knowledge flows is an original rejection of knowledge, a hatred of wisdom. This does not mean that philosophical approaches to horror are futile though, but instead entail an acceptance that alongside any philosophy or horror is, what Eugene Thacker calls, a horror of philosophy, an original trauma at the birth of thought with which we must engage in order to grapple with the arbitrary nature of our philosophies: “Thought that stumbles over itself, at the edge of an abyss”.[note]Eugene Thacker, Starry Speculative Corpse: Horror of Philosophy Vol. 2 (Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2015), 14.[/note] Noël Carrol says that “monsters are not only physically threatening; they are cognitively threatening”,[note]Noël Carroll. The Philosophy of Horror (London: Routledge, 1990), 34.[/note] and, through the aesthetic hybrids of abstraction/empathy, smooth/striated space, extensity/intensity, something foreign to our common-sense forces us to think the possibility of thinking completely differently. Horror opens the gap in our cognitive geometry, the rupture between the transcendental illusions of apperception and a possible noumenal realm of intensive difference. Encountering this undercurrent of inorganic force bring us face to face with the contingency of thinking but there is pleasure in our ability to think absolute alterity — Deleuze writes that “we lose our fear, knowing that our spiritual ‘destination’ is truly invincible”.[note]Deleuze, Cinema 1, 53.[/note] This destination of thinking is also its origin and its limit: the endless possibility of difference, where new harmonies can sound in the spectator, born from the discordant affects of horror. And, since each new image of thought must reside in the shadows of an arbitrary transcendental, terrifying yourself becomes the experimental vector of a practice of misosophy. va-tombstone1-03


Reaching Beyond to the Other: On Communal Outside-Worship

by Xenogoth


Such a lot the gods gave to me — to me, the dazed, the disappointed; the barren, the broken. And yet I am strangely content, and cling desperately to those sere memories, when my mind momentarily threatens to reach beyond to the other.[note]H.P. Lovecraft. “The Outsider” in The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. (London: Penguin Classics, 2002), 43.[/note]

H.P. Lovecraft’s short story The Outsider first appeared in the April 1926 issue of pulp fiction magazine Weird Tales. It certainly suits such a publication. A surreal story full of inconsistencies and implausibilities, theories abound as to the scenario it is actually describing.

S.T. Joshi, writing explanatory notes for the story in a Penguin Classics collection of Lovecraft’s tales, wonders if the story is an account of a dream or if the unnamed protagonist is a ghost or immortal being, doomed to haunt the shadowy castle in which they find themselves, with so much time having past that the outsider no longer remembers how they came to be.[note]S.T. Joshi, “Explanatory Notes: ‘The Outsider’” in Ibid., 373.[/note]

There is no final resolution to this endlessly interpretable story. What carries the narrative is not the horror of the unknown outside the castle, but the horror of the outsider’s own interiority; their imprisoned subjectivity — there are no mirrors with which they can see their appearance and they have no recollection of hearing another human voice, “not even my own; for although I had read of speech, I had never thought to try to speak aloud”.[note]H.P. Lovecraft. “The Outsider”, 44.[/note] 

Whilst apparently more at home amongst the skeletal dead than the painted portraits of the ‘living’ that line the castle’s walls, and having little memory of how they came to arrive in their present circumstances, the Outsider is driven by a curiosity to discover the world outside the castle they habitually call home.

The journey to the Outside is fragmentary and dream-like. Stumbling bewilderedly through non-Euclidean environs trying to glimpse the night sky, the Outsider eventually comes across a party in a castle that looks unnervingly like their own, albeit ruinous in other parts than the one they are familiar with. They enter only for all in attendance to flee in terror.

Seeing the horror from which the revellers have fled — something “not of this world — or no longer of this world — […] a leering, abhorrent travesty of the human shape”[note]Ibid., 48.[/note] — the Outsider soon realises that this terrifying face belongs to them, at first unable to reconcile the interior Self with the gruesome image of the Other reflected in “a cold and unyielding surface of polished glass”.[note]Ibid., 49.[/note]

With this revelation, that the Outsider is the Other and always was, the story ends…


Lovecraft’s weird tale speaks specifically to a passage found in the introduction to Mark Fisher’s 2016 book The Weird and The Eerie — a passage which echoes persistently throughout the rest of the text, signalling to Fisher’s best-known writings on the psychosocial affects of capitalism.

Considering capital as the ultimate “eerie entity”, Fisher wonders about the ways

that “we” “ourselves” are caught up in the rhythms, pulsions and patternings of non-human forces. There is no inside except as a folding of the outside; the mirror cracks, I am an other, and I always was.[note]Mark Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie (London: Repeater Books, 2016), 11-12.[/note]

Following this, it is fitting that Fisher then begins his book with an exploration of the works of H.P. Lovecraft. He notes that “it is not horror but fascination — albeit a fascination usually mixed with a certain trepidation — that is integral to Lovecraft’s rendition of the weird”.[note]Ibid., 17.[/note] For Fisher, on both an aesthetic and political level, it is the weird that is desirable for its ability to “de-naturalise all worlds, by exposing their instability, their openness to the outside”.[note]Ibid., 29.[/note]

This contrasts, for example, with the eerie ghost stories of M.R. James, explored later in the book, for whom “the outside is always coded as hostile and demonic”.[note]Ibid., 81.[/note] Fisher continues: “the glimpses of exteriority [James’ stories] offered no doubt brought a thrill to his listeners, but they also came with a firm warning: venture outside this cloistered world at your peril”.[note]Ibid.[/note]

The Outside is a concept that has long haunted the history of philosophy under various different names and formulations — from the Kantian noumenon to the Lacanian Real, et al. — with each functioning as a challenge to subjectivity that attempts to think beyond phenomenal limit-experiences. Whilst this broad definition is applicable to the narratives in much weird fiction, these tales explore the Outside through narrated ‘experience’ rather than objective academic analysis and they do so with an imaginative flare that has fascinated many.

Eugene Thacker, for instance, in his book In The Dust of Our Planet, explains that rather than write a “philosophy of horror” he hopes to articulate “the horror of philosophy: the isolation of those moments in which philosophy reveals its own limitations and constraints, moments in which thinking enigmatically confronts the horizon of its own possibility — the thought of the unthinkable that philosophy cannot pronounce but via a non-philosophical language”.[note]Eugene Thacker, In the Dust of Our Planet (London: Zero Books, 2011), 2.[/note]

Lovecraft’s The Outsider is an interesting example of such non-philosophical language as it is written from a seemingly impossible perspective. Its narrative viewpoint actively resists being imaginable to the reader. Imprisoned by their own subjectivity, the Outsider is shielded from the objective truth of their existence, but to see themselves — to witness the inside as a folding of the outside — is as intolerable as any encounter with pure exteriority. There is no moving beyond the weird tale’s final moment when the Outsider crosses the event horizon of their subjectivity and irreversibly lets the Outside in.

Whilst Lovecraft’s tale explores the horror of the Outside in the first-person (or, more accurately, non-person), most stories like it are told one step removed, exacerbating the intolerability of such a first-hand experience. Those who have experienced the horror of the Outside first-hand are often driven insane, unable to articulate their experience with any lucidity. A typical example of this can be found in Lovecraft’s best-known tale, The Call of Cthulhu, which is told through a first-hand reading of secondary accounts, including a police report written by Inspector John R. Legrasse who, notably, describes his encounter with a ‘Cthulhu Cult’ of Outside-worshippers.

The cult represent the Outside as a comprehensible and material social threat, far more visibly dangerous than the misadventures of the atomised individual in their collective channelling of the powers of the great Cthulhu. Whatever horrifying and unthinkable form the Outside may take, the fact remains that it is seemingly through community alone that its affects can be harnessed (whilst nonetheless remaining intolerable to the individual human mind).

Another example of this communal channelling can be found in Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel Picnic at Hanging Rock, the focus of the last chapter of The Weird and the Eerie. Fisher writes that the novel “invokes an outside that certainly invokes awe and peril, but which also involves a passage beyond the petty repressions and mean confines of common experience into a heightened atmosphere of oneiric lucidity”.[note]Mark Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie, 122.[/note]

The novel begins with the disappearance of three students and one teacher from an all-girls’ boarding school in Victoria, Australia. The women, exploring a rock formation at the titular local beauty spot, go through a truly bizarre experience. Suddenly overcome by drowsiness, they fall asleep. One of the group, Edith — who is less susceptible to the lure of the Outside: “her inability to let go of [her] everyday attachments […] ultimately prevents her from making the crossing”[note]Ibid., 128.[/note] — awakens to find her peers in a trance, disappearing one by one behind the rocky monolith they had just been exploring, giving themselves over to an unknown agency.

The women are never seen again. The effect of their disappearance on the rest of their community is catastrophic. With no explanation for their absence, locals assume all kinds of violent ends for the women. The boarding school eventually shuts down as concerned parents withdraw their children and members of staff resign. The communal stress and grief reach their peak with two separate suicides: namely, a student, Sara, and the school’s headmistress, Mrs Appleyard. Whilst the missing women collectively embrace the Outside, the school community is traumatically undone by their exit.

The final sentences of Fisher’s book note how — unlike Edith — the women are

fully prepared to take the step into the unknown. They are possessed by the eerie calm that settles whenever familiar passions can be overcome. They have disappeared, and their disappearances will leave haunting gaps, eerie intimations of the outside.[note]Ibid.[/note]

Following Fisher’s suicide in January 2017, this ending is unsettling to read. Death is, of course, the ultimate limit-experience, the ultimate challenge to subjectivity, and here grief becomes the affective result of being haunted by the Outside through the absences that death imposes upon both individual and community.

Fisher’s death explicitly intensifies the stakes of his thought in this way, as his absence has become an eerie intimation of the very Outside that lurked in the background of all his writings. It must be remembered, however, that whilst death was a topic he discussed frequently, so was the collective subjectivity he saw as essential to any postcapitalist future.

Caring for one another with the intensity that so often follows grief renews the possibility of such a collective subject being established, a subject which “does not exist, yet the crisis, like all other global crises we’re now facing, demands that it be constructed”.[note]Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism (London: Zero Books, 2009), 66.[/note] Again, even in the very real instance of an individual’s death, it is through community that the affects of the Outside are channelled, whilst still remaining intolerable, and the political implications of this communal channelling are considerable.

Whilst such implications are not discussed in The Weird and the Eerie explicitly, in the context of Fisher’s wider writings the book reads like an aesthetic toolkit for ontopolitical ‘egress’ — that now-familiar new addition to the Fisher lexicon which he details, in his usual style, with pop-cultural instantiations rather than academic exposition. He writes:

Lovecraft’s stories are full of thresholds between worlds: often the egress will be a book (the dreaded Necronomicon), sometimes […] it is literally a portal. […] The centrality of doors, thresholds and portals means that the notion of the between is crucial to the weird.[note]Mark Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie, 28.[/note]

Fisher’s use of the word ‘egress’ is not expanded upon beyond this passage, yet it is striking in its unfamiliarity and remains in the imagination as a name given to a particular kind of paraontological experience. It is a word synonymous with ‘exit’ that was most commonly used in nautical and astronomical contexts in the 18th and 19th centuries — it is archaic whilst exemplifying a twinned relationship between oceanic depths and the vast cosmos, making it an appropriate term to invoke in the orbit of Lovecraft. Its etymological relationship to ‘transgress’ is suggestive also.

In his next book, Acid Communism, left in an unknown state of completion at the time of his death, Fisher was to address the political reality of egress more explicitly. He hoped to reinvigorate the psychedelic praxes of consciousness-raising/-razing that have come to culturally define the 1960s and ’70s, channelling them through his postcapitalist desires.

Similar approaches are already becoming visible within contemporary politics. For instance, the Conservative party in the UK continues to habitually ridicule and criticise the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party for wanting to drag the country back to the 1970s. Fisher would perhaps argue that what the Labour party are instead suggesting is the return of that decade’s rising class consciousness; a return to its potentials.[note]Fisher’s reappraisal of the 1970s is not unprecedented and he publicly cited John Medhurst’s That Option No Longer Exists: Britain 1974-76 (London: Zero Books, 2014) and Jefferson Cowie’s Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (New York: The New Press, 2012) as major influences on his most recent thought — not to mention the philosophical texts by Deleuze & Guattari, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Marcuse, and Irigaray that emerged in that period following May ‘68.[/note]

In the unpublished introduction to Acid Communism, Fisher writes of this potential (if seemingly paradoxical) return of the new that capitalist realism[note]Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism (London: Zero Books, 2009). From Fisher’s book of the same name, capitalist realism can be very briefly summarised as the deeply held social belief — propagated by capitalism itself — that there is no realistic alternative to the capitalist system.[/note] repeatedly ungrounds:

In recent years, the sixties have come to seem at once like a deep past so exotic and distant that we cannot imagine living in it, and a moment more vivid than now — a time when people really lived, when things really happened. Yet the decade haunts not because of some unrecoverable and unrepeatable confluence of factors, but because the potentials it materialised and began to democratise — the prospect of a life freed from drudgery — has to be continually suppressed.[note]Mark Fisher, Acid Communism. (Unpublished).[/note]

Fisher seemed to want to encourage a community of Lovecraftian Outsiders, unsure of how they arrived at their present situation but nonetheless curious to leave the cloistered world in which they find themselves. Perhaps, like Lovecraft’s Outsider, this is a naïve position — but naïvité is hard to avoid in life at the limits of drudgery. The more immediate problem is that others have already begun to set in motion a similar political project of their own and perhaps it was this similarity that occasioned Fisher’s use of the word ‘egress’.

‘Exit’ was already taken…


In many of his writings, particularly on his K-Punk blog, Fisher was never shy about acknowledging the influence of Nick Land on his thought. The two had worked together as part of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit at the University of Warwick in the late 1990s — a collective of ‘renegade academics’ whose potent homebrew of cybernetics and philosophy, flavoured with a Lovecraftian sci-fi mythos, continues to have considerable occultural influence today. Whilst the group was largely anonymous, always opting for a collective voice, much of its output has subsequently become readily  associated with Land as the group’s most infamous member.

Whilst Fisher’s approach to politics seems fundamentally at odds with Land’s — at least in his later writings, the public perception of which has led to Land being quietly blacklisted by a number of publishers — they nevertheless share much in common philosophically.

Just as Thacker wrote of his interest in a philosophy that “enigmatically confronts the horizon of its own possibility”, the shared project of Land and Fisher is arguably one of applying the implications of such a speculative approach — often used to discuss more abstract questions of ontology and metaphysics — to the more immediate concerns of political philosophy.

Fisher’s most famous project, in his book Capitalist Realism, was to explore the notion that the end of the world is easier to imagine than the end of capitalism. Land, in The Dark Enlightenment — his controversial essay on Neoreactionary thought — instead explores the end of democracy as the limit of contemporary sociopolitical thinking.

The initial focus of Land’s essay is exit — a concept that has previously been put to use by thinkers across the political spectrum since the publication of Albert Hirschman’s 1970 book Exit, Voice, and Liberty, but is here given a uniquely Landian twist.[note]See: Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972)[/note] Similar to egress, Land’s exit refers to both an epistemological and practical exit from hegemonic social structures and belief systems. Land, however, proposes that exit be used against democracy. He writes:

Democracy and ‘progressive democracy’ are synonymous, and indistinguishable from the expansion of the state. Whilst ‘extreme right wing’ governments have, on rare occasions, momentarily arrested this process, its reversal lies beyond the bounds of democratic possibility. Since winning elections is overwhelmingly a matter of vote buying, and society’s informational organs (education and media) are no more resistant to bribery than the electorate, a thrifty politician is simply an incompetent politician, and the democratic variant of Darwinism quickly eliminates such misfits from the gene pool. This is a reality that the left applauds, the establishment right grumpily accepts, and the libertarian right has ineffectively railed against. Increasingly, however, libertarians have ceased to care whether anyone is ‘pay[ing them] attention’ — they have been looking for something else entirely: an exit.[note]Nick Land, The Dark Enlightenment,[/note]

Land goes on to define the social model he sees as politically desirable with the phrase: “no voice, free exit”, drawing explicitly on Hirschman and Curtis ‘Mencius Moldbug’ Yarvin.[note]See: Mencius Moldbug, “Patchwork: a positive vision (part 1)”, Unqualified Reservations, November 13, 2008,[/note] This formulation describes a non-democratic system of government in which citizens have no ‘voice’ but are free to leave whenever they wish.

Here, a citizen’s relationship to government is made analogous to the relationship between customer and business: customers have no say in how the business itself is run but they are welcome to opt for another competing service provider if they are unsatisfied with their experience. Land describes this model another way on his blog:

Government, of whatever traditional or experimental form, is legitimated from the outside — through exit pressure — rather than internally, through responsiveness to popular agitation. The conversion of political voice into exit-orientation (for instance, revolution into secessionism), is the principal characteristic of neoreactionary strategy.[note]Nick Land, “Premises of Neoreaction”. Xenosystems, February 3, 2014,[/note]

What is missing here — and likewise missed by the simplification of “no voice, free exit” — is the temporal complexity of Land’s maneuver. He describes how conservative and reactionary ideologies are made paradoxical in their retreat towards or repetition of what has come before. Neoreaction suggests a new approach to the old — it is a ‘progressive’ ‘conservatism’ that disembowels the meanings usually attached to either of those two words. Land’s exit, in this way, is a movement through these ideologies which, in their cyclonic relation to each other, offer new approaches towards progress and, therefore, time itself in their coupled divergence from the classic liberal model of teleological progressivism.

Here Land, too, invokes the Lovecraftian Outsider — a voiceless shadow out of time driven by exit — in opposition to the political establishment’s Jamesian warnings against the outer edges of this cloistered world. On his Xenosystems blog, with its penchant for abstract horror, Land could not be clearer:

The Outside is the ‘place’ of strategic advantage. To be cast out there is no cause for lamentation, in the slightest.[note] Nick Land, “Outsideness”. Xenosystems, August 1, 2014,[/note]

Neither Land nor Fisher shy away from the horrors that the traversing of these limits might summon within the human mind. Even though these limits have migrated to the realm of political philosophy, in corners both left and right Lovecraft remains a cogent reference point.

Fisher may have agreed with the strategic advantage of the Outside but, whilst the ends are similar, the means could not be more different.

For Fisher, thinking through the work of Herbert Marcuse, the history of Western art is littered with exit strategies. He presents a leftist instantiation of Land’s Outsider position, challenging the contemporary populist left, that can at best be described as working to a model of all voice and no exit, calling for new attempts at finding exits through other ways of living — attempts that have all too often been neutered by capitalism’s cooptive mechanisms.

The counterculture of the 1960s and ’70s is a prime example of this. Fisher writes that,

as much as Marcuse’s work was in tune with the counterculture, his analysis also forecast its ultimate failure and incorporation. A major theme of [his 1964 book] ‘One Dimensional Man was the neutralisation of the aesthetic challenge. Marcuse worried about the popularisation of the avant-garde, not out of elitist anxieties that the democratisation of culture would corrupt the purity of art, but because the absorption of art into the administered spaces of capitalist commerce would gloss over its incompatibility with capitalist culture. He had already seen capitalist culture convert the gangster, the beatnik and the vamp from “images of another way of life” into “freaks or types of the same life”. The same would happen to the counterculture, many of whom, poignantly, preferred to call themselves freaks.[note]Mark Fisher, Acid Communism (unpublished).[/note]

However, Fisher’s is not an anarcho-primitivist position, supporting a return to a time before capitalism and its technologies. His accelerationist position is an advocation of the use of capitalism’s forces to modulate past potentials, transducing them into the future by collectively harnessing capital’s deterritorializing capacities for outside aims and egresses.

Again, it can be argued that this is not so far from Land’s position either, but their arguments pivot on a battle between humanism and inhumanism. For example, Fisher and Land both share an acknowledgement of capitalism’s blobjective tendency to absorb everything it comes into contact with. On his Xenosystems blog, Land notes that the left’s analyses of capitalism — more perceptive than the right’s — remain indebted to the Deleuzo-Guattarian critique that capital “is highly incentivized to detach itself from the political eventualities of any specific ethno-geographical locality, and — by its very nature — it increasingly commands impressive resources with which to ‘liberate’ itself, or ‘deterritorialize’”.[note] Nick Land, “Capital Escapes”. Xenosystems, November 21, 2014,[/note]

Capital’s stifling of any meaningful exit other than its own remains a central point of contention within many contemporary leftist discourses, particularly in black and queer studies, many of which share Fisher’s attempt to rethink the pessimism of an exit-as-apocalypse ideological default.[note]See, for example, Lee Edelman’s No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004) — notable for its titular challenge to heteronormative temporality — and Denise Ferreira da Silva’s essay “Towards a Black Feminist Poethics: The Quest(ion) of Blackness Towards the End of the World” (The Black Scholar, 44, No. 2, States of Black Studies (2014), 81-97), in which she ponders explicitly black exit strategies: “Would Blackness emancipated from science and history wonder about another praxis and wander in the World, with the ethical mandate of opening up other ways of knowing and doing?” See also, for a more recent consideration of Land’s writing and Afropessimism: Jehu, “Land, Wilderson and the Nine Billion Names of God”, The Real Movement, August 20, 2017,[/note] Land, however, in this framework, doubles down on capital’s deterritorializing capacities, removing any purely humanistic agency and suggesting that, at present, exit is the sole prerogative of capital and not of those caught up in its rhythms, pulsions and patternings.

Whilst Land seems to suggest that we must channel the inhumanist exit of capital as an already-existing path towards exteriority, Fisher argues for a collective channelling of Lovecraftian aesthetics leading to the formulation of new cultures, which remain the only way for the left to egress — and, in order to do this, it is essential that the left learn from the countercultures that have come before.

To return to our Lovecraftian metaphor: if Land is an Outsider, having looked in the mirror and identified with the inhumanism of capital, Fisher is rather hoping to collectivise, organising an Acid Communist Cthulhu Cult of Outsider-worshippers. His focus on the aesthetic challenge is no doubt influenced by his subcultural affiliations. What are Goths if not Outside-worshippers who already live amongst us? However, even this subculture has been subsumed within capitalism — commodified, its vague political potentials have long been neutralised.

Elsewhere, the Alt-Right‘s repeated exclamation that they are the ‘new punk’ preempts any renewed channelling of the 1960s and ’70s — a cry that is so often met with derision, despite punk’s well-documented on-off political and aesthetic flirtations with fascism.

Aesthetic questions of exit are further complicated here. Even post-punk, which Fisher wrote about at length and which he acknowledged as his primary cultural influence, flirted with fascist imagery. Writing on Joy Division’s aesthetic appropriations of images of the Hitler Youth on their debut EP, An Ideal for Living, he writes:

The Virilio / Deleuze-Guattari analysis of Fascism, remember, maintains that Fascism is essentially self-destructive: a line of pure abolition. As such, Fascism is just the name for one more variant of the Romantic lust for the Night when all identity, all individuation, is subsumed in ‘an ecstatic aestheticized experience of Community’ (Zizek).[note]Mark Fisher, “Nihil Rebound: Joy Division,” K-Punk, January 9, 2005, — here Mark is quoting from Slavoj Žižek, The Plague of Fantasies (London: Verso Books, 2009)[/note]

Here again community emerges as central to processes related to the channelling of the Outside. Fisher’s invocation of communism is obviously communal but even Land’s model of ‘exit pressure’ surely relies on a collectivised desire for exit within a given system if that pressure is to have any weight at all. Different means, similar ends.

Whilst Fisher does not advocate an anti-democratic position like Land does, his recommended practices are certainly extra-democratic. Capitalism cannot be ‘voted out’ but a big enough change to the cultural status quo could make it politically redundant.

This double-pincer of ‘community’ — with its equally dystopian and utopian potentials — grounds many takes on the ‘question of Communism’ as it has been discussed in recent years by continental philosophy. Whereas fascism seems to hold self-destruction as its central motif, much writing on communism holds the destruction of the Other as a folded destruction of the Self. As Maurice Blanchot writes in his book The Unavowable Community:

To remain present in the proximity of another who by dying removes himself definitively, to take upon myself another’s death as the only death that concerns me, this is what puts me beside myself, this is the only separation that can open me, in its very impossibility, to the Openness of a community.[note]Maurice Blanchot, The Unavowable Community, trans. Pierre Joris (Barrytown: Temple Hill Press, 1988), 9.[/note] 

To engage with this Openness, this Opening, is precisely to ‘egress’.


Maurice Blanchot’s comments on community were initially written in response to Jean-Luc Nancy’s 1985 essay on Bataille, The Inoperative Community, and this response triggered a correspondence between the two which would last for a number of decades.

Nancy was to have the final word.

In late 2001, just prior to Blanchot’s death in 2003, Nancy wrote the preface for a new edition of The Unavowable Community. Detailing the history of their conversation, Nancy describes the essence of “community” (which he had — he admits — first failed to account for) as “the space between us — ‘us’, remaining in the great indecision where this collective or plural subject stands and stays condemned never to find its own proper voice.”[note]Jean-Luc Nancy, “The Confronted Community”, trans. Jason Kemp Winfree, in The Obsessions of Georges Bataille (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2009), 25.[/note] 

What Nancy describes here — now in line with Blanchot’s own thought — is a paraontological community that is constituted by an unknowable and unavowable bond that dares us “to think the unthinkable, the unaccountable, the intractable of being-with, but without subjecting or submitting it to any hypostasis”.[note]Ibid., 27[/note]

It should be noted that Nancy is writing here just one month after the events of September 11th 2001. Such an event of international trauma is “all at once a confrontation and an opposition, a coming before oneself so as to challenge one’s self, so as to part within one’s being a gash that is the condition of this being”.[note]Ibid.[/note] 

This gash is presented here as a primal wound. It is not created by tragedy — tragedy is rather a finger stuck through it, making us all too aware of its presence. For Nancy, the events of 9/11 instigated a colossal questioning of the self — not unlike the horrors of the Second World War that influenced Bataille’s original writings. Whilst one nation or people may have suffered the brunt of a particular attack, the event nonetheless highlights a rupture within all of us, requiring a paraontological questioning of the collective subject that extends far beyond national and cultural ‘communities’ and into the ever-elusive outside ‘us’.

Nancy continues: “the sudden offensive strike that has taken in a stunning figure with the collapse of the symbol of global commerce (and therefore of exchange, of relations, and of communication) presents itself, or wants to present itself, as a religious confrontation, with fundamentalist monotheism, on the one side, humanist theism, no less fundamentalist, on the other”.[note]Ibid., 28[/note] What is interesting is that this same topic became the site of Land and Fisher’s final convergence.

Dual essays posted on the Urbanomic website at the end of 2016, just a month before Fisher’s death, contended with the communal wounding of the terror attacks of November 13th 2015, in which 130 people were killed and almost 500 injured when bombers and marauding gunmen attacked the streets of Paris, most catastrophically targeting an Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan music venue in the 11th arrondissement.

Both Land and Fisher are here responding, more specifically, to Alain Badiou’s 2016 essay on the attacks, Our Wound is Not So Recent.[note]Alain Badiou, Our Wound Is Not So Recent: Thinking the Paris Killings of 13 November, trans. Robin Mackay.(Cambridge: Polity Press, 2016)[/note] Whilst Fisher “calls for a new politics to counter the decadence of capitalist realism”, Land “reconfigures the battlefield of the future, and plays devil’s advocate for globalised capitalism”.[note]Mark Fisher, “Cybergothic vs Steampunk”, Urbanomic, 2016,; Nick Land, “Sore Losers”, Urbanomic, 2016,[/note] Nevertheless, both arguments find themselves in orbit of community and its outside.

“Capital is nothing if it is not parsimonious”, Fisher writes, “and for the last thirty years it has sustained itself by relying on readymade forms of existential affiliation”.[note]Mark Fisher, “Cybergothic vs Steampunk”.[/note] For Fisher, ISIS is most certainly an abhorrent death cult, but it is a death cult that should nonetheless be recognised and taken seriously for its success in offering some young Muslims — the West’s Outsiders du jour — something that capitalism never can.

What ISIS forces into capitalism’s global currents is an extremist neoreactionary community — “a cybergothic phenomenon which combines the ancient with the contemporary (beheadings on the web)”[note]Ibid.[/note] — that appears incompatible with the West’s hegemonic moral structures and culturally Judeo-Christian belief systems.

As an example of “the rising tide of experimental political forms [appearing] in so many areas of the world”, ISIS presents us with an extreme and potently unthinkable example of a people “rediscovering group consciousness and the potency of the collective” outside the reach of capitalism, and neoliberal (post)colonialism more specifically.[note]Ibid.[/note] 

For Fisher, the left must find its own community, a new community, that opposes such abject violence whilst nonetheless sharing with ISIS a dual resistance against and utilisation of the technologies of coercive capital. Their violent example must not occasion a rallying behind the symbol of Western capitalism under siege. This new community must instead harness the exacerbation of capitalism’s failures that those fighting for an Islamic State continue to violently reveal for us.

It is Land who demonstrates this entangled problematic most damningly. He similarly takes on the limitations of capitalist collectivities but, by contrast, directs his polemic towards Badiou’s universalised ‘Frenchness’ as the symbol of modernity’s failures.

When Badiou proclaims that ‘Our wound is not so recent’, we are compelled to ask: How far does this collective pronoun extend? A response to this question could be prolonged without definite limit. Everything we might want to say ultimately folds into it, ‘identity’ most obviously. Whatever meaning ‘communism’ could have belongs here, as ‘we’ reach outwards to the periphery of the universal, and thus (conceivably) to the end of philosophy.[note]Nick Land, “Sore Losers”.[/note]

With his focus on a nationalistic identitarianism, Badiou stifles his own reach towards an outside that the terror attacks themselves have instigated. Land writes, and Fisher also suggests, that the horror of the question of community, taken as Blanchot radically intended it, must include ISIS.

Any Western conception of ‘us’ that resists the folding of that which we deem outside ‘us’ — as ISIS are both judged and choose to be — is to remain trapped within the damned and damning subjectivity of contemporary neoliberalism. To insist ‘we are not like them’ and ‘they are not like us’ is to double down on our failures.

Land continues:

French identity, radically conceived, corresponds to a failed national project. Is it not, in fact, the supreme example of collective defeat in the modern period, and thus — concretely — of humiliation by capital? It is the way the ‘alternative’ dies: locally, and unpersuasively, without dialectical engagement, dropping — neglected — into dilapidation. It can be inserted into a limited, yet not inconsiderable, series of identities making vehement claim to universality without provision of any effective criterion through which to establish it. When frustrated by the indifference of the outside, such objective pretentions tend to turn ‘fascist’ in exactly the sense Badiou employs.[note]Ibid.[/note]

He concludes:

The ‘liberation of liberalism’ has scarcely begun. None of this is a concern for Badiou, however, or for the Islamists. It belongs to another story, and — for this is the ultimate, septically enflamed wound — as it runs forwards, ever faster, it is not remotely theirs.[note]Ibid.[/note]

This wound is all of ours, even when the collective ‘our’ is radically extended into infinity. Modernity, however, is not a cold and unyielding surface of polished glass — at least not for the West. It is obfuscated; fogged.

To be confronted by ISIS is precisely to look in the mirror and not recognise the inhuman face of modernity looking back. The accelerated destruction of ISIS, occasioned — the West hopes — by the fall of Mosul, is to only prolong our own self-destruction.

Fisher concludes:

The growing clamour of groups seeking to take control of their own lives portends a long overdue return to a modernity that capital just can’t deliver. New forms of belonging are being discovered and invented, which will in the end show that both steampunk capital and cybergothic ISIS are archaisms, obstructions to a future that is already assembling itself.[note]Mark Fisher, “Cybergothic vs Steampunk”.[/note]

As Land, too, has consistently insisted, whether the trajectory is towards communism or any other political future, the unthinkable must be thought and recognised and this will never be without risk:

“To find ways out, is to let the Outside in.”[note]Nick Land, “Quit”, Xenosystems, February 28, 2013,[/note] va-tombstone1-03


part 7 – cosmic dys𝔭𝔢𝔭𝔰𝔦a & divine excrement: or, an essay unveiling the teleoplexic identity of miltonic chaos, capitalist nigredo and alchemical pepsi cola™

Yesterday: ‘Sugar & Zero, Milton & Böhme: the Dyspeptic Abyss of Theogony’

THE FINAL DAY. 𝕯𝖊𝖘𝖈𝖊𝖓𝖘𝖚𝖘 𝖆𝖉 𝕴𝖓𝖋𝖊𝖗𝖔𝖘: or, My Belly Consumed My Head


Just as fizzing water seeps from the earth, the chthonic and chaomantic black sun (sol niger) of the Pepsi Alph dwells within the ‘mantle’ of Creation, waiting to extravasate and haemorrhage the world with sugary, hydraulic nigredo. As total primordiality, it dwells deep within all existences: even, as we have seen, God himself. As Jung writes, “[t]artar settles on the bottom of the vessel, which in the language of the alchemists means: in the underworld, Tartarus”.[note]Carl Gustav Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, (Princeton University Press, 1981), 301.[/note] And certainly, we can trace the genetic history of Pepsi even further back into greater entanglement with Paradise Lost via the deep link between carbonation and the infernal abysm of Hell. That is, in one final synchronicity, we shall document how Pepsi’s genetic history can be traced all the way back to Hell itself (in its actual, real world instantiation).

grotto del cani

Van Helmont had noticed that ‘gas sylvestre’ was liable not only to collect within breweries and wine cellars but also within certain caves. In this, he was most likely referring to the infamous Cave of Dogs (‘Grotto del Cani’) near Naples. Athanasius Kircher had previously documented the effect of an unknown gas (CO2) in the cave. Pooling at the bottom, it would cause dogs to asphyxiate (whence the cave draws its name), whereas their human counterparts (with orthograde posture safely positioning their mouths above the layer of pooled CO2) would survive. This phenomenon had been documented since the ancients, and was suitably well-known. Furthermore, it was van Helmont who identified this canine-killing substance as ‘gas sylvestre’ via his discovery of CO2. Of occult import is the fact that the very same noxious carbon dioxide that collects in the Cave of Dogs was also famed for emanating — in large quantities — from the neighbouring lake, the Lago d’Averno (‘Lake Avernus’). Both are located within the Solfatara region (which gains its name from the Italian word for ‘sulphur’), itself part of the Phlegraean Fields (i.e. ‘burning fields’), famous throughout Italian literature for being the geographical location of the entrance to Hell. Both Dante and Virgil locate Hell’s entrance within the fuming Lake Avernus; and the Romans, similarly, thought it to be within the craters of the Solfatara. Crucially, the entire reason for choosing this area for the geolocation of Hell’s gate was entirely down to the area’s noxious carbon emissions. The Solfatara’s carbonic gas fumes feature prominently in the literature, with Virgil famously alluding to the idea that birds could not fly over the area without suffocating.[note]Cf. Salomon Kroonenberg, Why Hell Stinks of Sulfur: Mythology and the Geology of the Underworld (Reaktion Books, 2013).[/note] In suitable fashion, a naturally carbonated spring named ‘Pisciarelli’ was located nearby — the source of medicinal fizzy water long thought to cure chronic diarrhoea. (Since balneology really takes off in Ancient Rome, these springs would have been amongst the first used for their restorative properties: thus, it would have certainly been one the places where the ancient collocation of fizz and digestion was birthed.)

The history of carbon dioxide — and thus Pepsi — begins in the entrance to Tartarus: curiosity concerning the emanations in this hellish cave is what originally alerted thinkers to the properties of carbonic gas. We thus see how this ancient Roman entrance to Hell’s domain originally inspired the study of carbonation by alerting early modern savants to the presence of gases separate from air, which — in turn — led to van Helmont’s discovery of carbon dioxide… and the rest, as we know, is history. Thus, finally, we see how fear amongst the Ancients of Hell’s lethal fumarole emissions transformed, over the long centuries, into the 19th-century invention of Pepsi Cola. Bubbling down through Virgil, Dante, Kircher, Paracelsus, van Helmont, Priestley, Schweppe, and Bradham, the toxic carbon fumes of Tartarus were eventually converted into the carbonated tartar we line our guts with daily, on a global scale.


ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE. Doré’s illustration of Lake Avernus, and the Entrance to Tartarus/Hell.

Pepsi, quite simply, was forged in Hell.[note]And, like Hell (as the spatialisation of revolt), Pepsi marks the tendency for dark materials to switch into self-selection, outstripping the centralised planning that originally created them.[/note] Appropriately, Hell is — in the Kabbalistic tradition[note]PEPSI = 110 = KABBALAH [/note] — also referred to as ‘Tehom’ (meaning ‘the depths’), which, in turn, also refers to the surging liquid ‘Deep’ or ‘Abyss’ prior to Genesis’s creation: a carbonic black Tehom[note]PEPSI ABYSM = 215 = TIME TRAVEL [/note] — as prima materia — is the tartareous Deep, effervescing beneath and within creation. (Notably, ‘Tehom’ is also cognate with ‘Tiamat’.[note]”Before the gods there was only Tiamat, the bitter water, her companion Apsu, the sweet water, who is also Abzu (the abyss), and “that return to the womb” — or matrix-implex — her Mummu.” Cf.[/note]) Indeed, in the physico-theological understanding of the 17th century, this ‘Tehom’ (or Hypogene Abyss of Chaos) was believed to still reside deep within the Earth’s crust: and the existence of this tellurian chaos ocean was employed, accordingly, as the causal explanation for the Noachic Flood. Thomas Burnet documented how this indwelling, chthonic ‘Tehom’ (as tellurian chaos ocean) had broken forth, from the “fountains of the deep”: literally causing the world to fizz with abyssal liquid. We note that “fountain” originally comes from “font”: denoting any fizzy mineral water spring (from which we get the term ‘soda fountain’). And, as we have seen, people have, since the Ancients, considered the depths of Hell to be the source of plutonic carbonation and infernal fizz. Certainly, Burnet’s description of this “Tehom Rabbah” (‘Great Deep’)[note]TEHOM RABBAH = 192 = UTTUNUL [/note] enforces this. The contemporary understanding of diluvial geology proposed that the planet literally effervesced at the Flood: that it was broken down into constituent elements, in a mix of Air and Water (with Solids sinking to the bottom). Pepsi surged from the depths, as templex prima materia. And, as Paradise Lost details, it could well happen again.


Troublingly, however, Paradise Lost — as we have been proposing in this essay — also allows for this relapse to occur outside of divine decree. Because of Milton’s materialist voluntarism, synecdochal revolt — ontological dyspepsia — is always possible: indeed, this is exactly how Satan’s coup was able to happen. A part loops back into itself, and begins to simulate or feign autonomy. As Milton implies, all terrestrial nature could collapse. He writes that, had the war in heaven ensued,

                               nor only Paradise,
In this commotion, but the starry cope
Of heaven perhaps, or all the elements
At least had gone to wreck, disturbed and torn [PL; iv.991-4]

It is the clean hyaline — “the starry cope / Of heaven” — whose task, as a cosmic integument, is to immunise the cosmos against the “loud misrule of Chaos”, lest “extremes / Contiguous might distemper the whole frame” [PL; vii.271-4]. Yet, despite this, had “not soon / the Eternal” repressed this ontic rebellion, the hyaline would have denatured and the whole of nature lapsed into auto-immunity, returning to dyspepsia and chaos [PL; iv.992-3]. Walter Charelton had written of the need for “continuall renovation and reparation” of all creaturely existences, for fear that “the whole Fabrick” be destroyed by chaotic “decayes”.[note]Walter Charleton, Natural History of Nutrition, Life, and Voluntary Motion, Containing all the New Discoveries of Anatomist’s and Most Probable Opinions of Physicians, concerning the Oeconomie of Human Nature: Methodically Delivered in Exercitations Physico-Anatomical, (London, 1659), 91.[/note] In Milton’s Comus, the eponymous character delineates the basal superfluity of nature, explicating the possibility of an overly creative abortion in her universal womb:

[She] would be quite surcharged with her own weight,
And strangled with her waste fertility;
The earth cumbered, and winged air darked with plumes,
The herds would over-multitude their lords,
The sea o’erfraught would swell, and the unsought diamonds
Would so emblaze the forehead of the deep [ll.727-32]

Insubordinate ontological excess. Meltdown. Base matter rebellion. Internal insurrection. We note the use of the language of overflowing and overabundance: of a plenitude gone rotten. Increatum is, again, “the womb of nature and perhaps her grave” [PL; ii.911]. Nature as basilisk. By “unsought diamonds”, perhaps, Milton was imagining the tartrate crystals that are produced as superfluities of fermentation.


In this light, Satan — again — is revealed as merely a symptom or vector of Chaos’s liquefaction of reality (a vector later taken up, after being passed on by Satan to Capital, by the chemical known as Pepsi-Cola). Satan is a conduit for producing localised fonts of Tehom relapse. He expedites the return of the tartar that lies as potential within all materials. Pandæmonium is a perfect example: Satan opens a “spacious wound” in the hill, “scumm[ing] the bullion dross” causing “a fabric huge” to rise “like an exhalation” (a flatulence) out of the earth [PL; i.689, 710, 704, 711]. His demonic “crew” recapitulate the original excrementation of Creation’s “infernal dregs”, dragging pandemonium into the world, and bringing yet more excess into Creation. (Unsurprisingly, the diabolical architecture is described as arising from a “womb” — of “metallic ore” and “sulfur” [PL; i.673-4].) Even more striking is Satan’s provocation of the very Empyrean to belch weaponised chaos out of the ground in the form of the Satanic war-machines. Before pulling his cannons out of the ground, the Prince of Pandæmonium describes his very own “dark materials” before the act:

Which of us who beholds the bright surface
Of this etherous mould whereon we stand,
This continent of spacious heav’n, adorned,
With plant, fruit, flower ambrosial, gems and gold,
Whose eye so superficially surveys
These things, as not to mind from whence they grow
Deep underground, materials dark and crud,
Of spirituous and fiery spume, […]
These in their dark nativity the deep
Shall yield to us, pregnant with infernal flame [PL; vi.472-85]

Here, the very spinal cord of the verse encrypts the return to chaotic depths: both logically and on the page itself, a descensus ad inferos — a katabasis into the womb of chaos — is presented. The abyssal and dyspeptic chaos, in its “dark nativity”, is the unruly ground of all that walks the “bright surface” which the “eye so superficially surveys”. The surface is easily peeled away and discarded: the depth “yields to us” chaotic forms abundant. It is further stressed that these materials are even “as not to mind” in order to emphasise their ability to escape, to flood around, mental structures and intelligibility. This matter isn’t just ontologically distal from thought, it is against conceptual thought. Satan is an artist of Chaos, but also therefore only its agent and its puppet. He draws the fizziness of Pepsi-Tehom to the surface. Indeed, van Helmont himself had written that the alchemist can draw “a wild and pernicious Gas [aka Chaos] out of coals, Stygian waters and fusions of minerals”.[note]Georgiana D. Hedesam, An Alchemical Quest for Universal Knowledge: The ‘Christian Philosophy’ of Jan Baptist van Helmont (1567-1644), (Routledge), 133.[/note] In his act of infernal chemical ingenuity, Satan’s yielding of weaponised Chaos is related to daemonic invention (like that of the poet):

The invention all admired, and each, how he
The inventor missed, so easy it seemed once found,
Which yet unfound most would have thought
Impossible. [PL; vi.498-500]

Invention (poetic, industrial, technocommerical, chaomantic) straightforwardly just is the paradox of auto-production: because of its inherently circular causality, it only makes sense retrospectively and is never predictable prospectively. Simultaneously anastrophe and catastrophe, it drags previous impossibilities into being. Tearing the consistency of reality as it smears the real across itself. This hellish alchemical “invention” results in Satan’s “devilish machinations” [PL; vi.504], when (upon the “[c]oncot[ion]” of “[t]he originals of nature”) the entrails of the heavens belch forth (like “thundring Ætna”) demonic anal cannons:

                 in a moment up they turned
Wide the celestial soil, and saw beneath
The originals of nature in their crude
Conception; sulphurous and nitrous foam
They found, they mingled, and with subtle art,
Concoted and adjusted they reduced
To blackest grain, and into store convey:
Part hidden veins digged up (nor hath this earth
Entrails unlike) of mineral and stone, [PL; vi.509-17]

Paracelsians often imagined hypogene actions (the actions of mineral and stone) as the production of a geocosmic archeus. Duchesne, for example, envisioned metals concocted by “heate, by force wherefore mettales congealed in the bowels of the earth are diposed [and] digested”.[note]A.G. Debus, The French Paracelsians: The Chemical Challenge to Medical and Scientific Tradition in Early Modern France, (Cambridge University Press, 1991), 34.[/note] Satan is reactivating the shit, the dyspepsia, of the geontic coelom. His infernal artillery is the regurgitation and recrudescence of God’s uncontrollable, fallopian, pepsoidal chaos. Pulling up these dark materials, he harnesses the excessiveness of matter that God had to excrete, utilising its attendant autonomy from divine forms, therefore turning “waste fertility” to “devilish machinations”. He increases the resistance of this materia to incorporation back into the homeostatic divine-archeus-system. This is the job that Satan fulfils throughout the poem: a force of cosmic deregulation, he creates problems for digestive bureaucracy / God-as-culinary-homeostat. A vector of Chaomantic Libertarianism, Satan is the peptic ulcer in the archeus of Milton’s universe.

In Comus, Milton had envisioned a similar motif of chaotic voluntarist revolution. As previously quoted, Milton describes — in a curious acephalic image — an overripe geocosm auto-producing a superfluous accretion of “unsought” diamonds that proceed to “emblaze the forehead of the deep” [ll.731-2]. Milton goes on to describe these chthonic, chaomantic stars becoming “so bestud” with subsidiary glimmer

                                         that they below
Would grow inured to light, and come at last
To gaze upon the sun with shameless brows [ll.743-5]

The coccyx of the cosmos erupts through the cranium. Indeed, this is the perfect exemplar of synecdochal revolt. Here, the self-fed “waste fertility” of a subterraneous pseudo-star comes to overflow its role as a ‘Part’ and thus, in runaway auto-intensification, comes directly to compete with the ‘Whole’: this sol niger — as malignant telluric beam — comes to “gaze upon the [original] sun with shameless brows”. Through its crushing superfluity, the blinding darkness of this Pepsi-Sun — like Milton’s own blindness — blots out the true, and primary, lightsource of the world. The idea of Tehom, “the deep”, overthrowing true luminosity with its own excessive “darkness visible” finds parallels with Milton’s own delineation of aggressive blindness. The process of Satanic revolt (in which the Part comes to “gaze upon” the Whole) is not unnatural, quite the opposite: it the natural state of all matter. It is Means-Ends subversion. Fed on itself and looped back into its own dyspeptic pregnancy, hylomorphism becomes rotten, cancerous, and apoptotic. Moreover, it is the revocation of all top-down rule: the insuperable capacity for internal revolt and usurpation, unbeholden to any organisation, be it cosmic, organic, intellectual or political. As a form of solar self-decapitation from below, it resembles the image of the ‘belly revolting against the head’, which, in Milton’s time, had become a prime metaphor for the regicide and revolution. This is to be expected, what with the dissolution of Parliament being referred to as the ‘Purge’ and the replacement skeleton-Parliament dubbed the ‘Rump’.  The Body Politic had become autoacephalic: God and King, as the head, had been decapitated by the rest of the body (quite literally in King Charles’ beheading) — the rebellious parliament or the deregulatory tartar of God’s own scatological ex deo creation. This autoacephalica and self-cannibalisation was perfectly captured in numerous contemporary illustrations and reimaginings of Aesop’s autoanthropophagic “Fable of the Belly and the Members”:

fable of the belly and the parts
Ogilby, J. ‘Sculpture 47’ in, The Fables of Æsop, Paraphras’d in Verse, Adorn’d with Sculpture, and Illustrated with Annotations, (London, 1668), 47th Fable.

Here we witness the fear of auto-production encapsulated. It is a role now fulfilled by capital rather than any human political agitation: for, by operating primarily as a form of metynomic usurpation (whereby mere means swell, through self-selection, into ends-in-themselves), it comes to be symbolised by Pepsi (as avatar for the superstimuli revolt of the belly against the head, or desire against norms). Pepsi retrojects itself as the true subject of history: glucose hunger replaces human goals. And so, we come to full appreciation of the templex connection between Pepsi and Chaos: Miltonic Chaos is about Pepsi because Miltonic Chaos becomes real as Pepsi. As Pepsi tends towards producing itself, and only itself, the entire universe is beholden to terminal Dyspepsia, and we envision Burnet’s account of the flood returning once more. The Earth will burst forth with the black tartar of nigredo: Tehom and Tiamat return ascendant. Creation is not becoming more crystalline, but more faecal and tartareous. What, then, is the end-point of this effervescing of existence, this ontological skotison? As one of the brothers explains in Comus:

               But evil on itself shall back recoil,
And mix no more with goodness, when at last
Gathered like scum, and settled to itself
It shall be in eternal restless change
Self-fed, and self-consum’d, if this fail,
The pillared firmament is rottenness
And earth’s base built on stubble. [ll.592-8]

If this is not a statement of demonic rebellion as cybernetic positive feedback, then it is hard to say quite what else it could be. Circling into itself, as evil “on itself shall back recoil”, it becomes auto-productive, “[s]elf-fed and self-consum’d”. This is Milton’s model of cybernetic take-off. Here, he truly was acting as the blind prophet of Capital’s tendency towards metonymic (demonic) revolt: Human production tends towards replacement with Pepsi production. Increasingly, we live to consume rather than consume to live. And, with stunning prophetic acuity, Milton sees that the result of all this is meltdown: return to nigredo, tartar relapse, sol niger implosion… The great Pepsi fountains of the Earth break forth, “pillared firmament is rottenness” and “earth’s base built on stubble”.

Pepsi invents itself from the future. va-tombstone1-03


part 5 – cosmic dys𝔭𝔢𝔭𝔰𝔦a & divine excrement: or, an essay unveiling the teleoplexic identity of miltonic chaos, capitalist nigredo and alchemical pepsi cola™

Yesterday: ‘Alchemy to Chemistry: or, the Occult History of Carbonated Beverages and the Secret Origins of Pepsi Cola’

DAY 5. 🅱🅰🆂🅸🅻🅸🆂🅺: Menstrual Chaotics and God’s Ectopic Pregnancy


And so, we see that Caleb Bradham, in both inventing and branding Pepsi, invokes a tradition that stretches directly back to 16th century iatrochemical experiments. In advertising his product as an ailment for peptic ulcer, Bradham was drawing upon Priestley’s use of carbonation as a cure for scurvy, which — in turn — was an uptake of van Helmont’s discovery of gas and Paracelsus’s pioneering interest in balneological healing. Pepsi thus emerges directly from the alchemical-archeus tradition. Pepsi is alchemical. It also emerges, therefore, from the same tradition Milton used to fashion the metaphysical structure of Paradise Lost, a tradition he was deeply familiar with. Nevertheless, despite the ancient connection between fizz and eupepsia, it does not aid digestion: it makes it worse. Rather than lending us the hyaline peristalsis of the angels — for whom “what redounds transpires […] with ease” — it aggravates purging and superfluity. And so, as Walter Charleton wrote in his translations of van Helmont, “we (as Nature) advance to the DEPURATION or Defecation”: we advance, that is, to nature’s inherently “excrementitious ways”.[note]Walter Charleton, Natural History of Nutrition, Life, and Voluntary Motion, Containing all the New Discoveries of Anatomists and Most Probable Opinions of Physicians, concerning the Oeconomie of Human Nature: Methodically Delivered in Exercitations Physico-Anatomical, (London, 1659), 91.[/note]

With all digestion there must be excrement (just as with all knowing there must be a transcendental barrier). And this applies at the highest level: it applies to the digestive tract of Milton’s cosmos itself, to the very archeus. There is, it seems, some dimension of matter that exceeds even God’s anabolic assimilation into divine forms. Excrement is — ontologically — insuperable. Angels still experience matter that “redounds”; nigredo is necessary for alchemical purification; even the glassy hyaloides are at risk of “depuration” from gutta serena.[note]Indeed, ‘hyaline’ has come — in modern usage — to denote the superfluous matter in degenerative medical conditions.[/note] As we have already glimpsed, the universe of Paradise Lost contains a surprising amount of scatology for a seemingly ultra-Christian theodicy: nature itself lets off two violent barrages of flatus upon the consumption of the Apple’s “intellectual food”. Elsewhere, we see Satan’s ‘anal cannons’: waging “intestine war in heaven” with artillery engines fashioned from the “entrails” of the empyrean, complete with “hideous orifice[s]” gaping “wide” [PL; vi.259, 517, 577]. In Book I, we hear of the “subterranean wind” belching from “thundering Ætna”, whose “entrails […] leave a singed bottom all involv’d / With stench” [PL; i.231‐7].[note]One cannot but imagine that gout-riddled Milton knew all about how a “singed bottom all involv’d / With stench” felt.[/note] This sprawling epic undeniably embeds the poetic traces of the tortured flatibusque that Milton himself complained of. Appropriately, it appears that Milton (probably as his health deteriorated) came progressively to reject his earlier promotion of the ideal of a perfect digestive tract: writing on transubstantiation in his De Doctrina, he explains that “if we eat flesh, it will not remain in us, but (to be utterly frank) after being digested […] will finally be voided”.[note]De Doctrina, 751.[/note] Even holy rituals cause shite. Further to this, we see that this same axiomatic irreducibility of excrement applies to God himself, and his own alimentary canal: i.e. it applies to Creation. When mapped in this way (i.e. within an archeus-inflected cosmological schematic), the axiom of the inevitability of excrement becomes recast as a troubling ability for matter to exceed even divine planning. This arises as a mutation of hylomorphism, one that Paracelsian philosophy encrypted as the idea of ‘chaos’ or ‘tartar’.

Within the ancient Aristotelian schema, ‘matter’ is merely the blank potency of being or non-being that forms take on (this is why it is properly thought of as merely the empty capacity — the receptacle — for accepting forms). It is thus nothing without forms: matter is more of a modal category than any kind of substratum or ‘stuff’. Matter is only actualised with the imposition of forms: which — for Aristotle and later scholasticism — are identical with intelligible structure. As a direct consequence, matter extricated from all intelligibility was entirely unthinkable.[note]This is not the same as idealism of the Berkelian variety (indeed, this was only possible much later). Rather, it is merely the claim that being is intelligible because it itself has a logical or propositional structure. The mutual entwining of actuality and intelligibility.[/note] Matter could not, in this schema, be self-actualising: which is to say that it could not be regarded as fully actualised outside of any relationship with mental categories. In a specific sense, then, all matter was caused by intellectual structures (and could not be thought of as self-causing). Hence, the collocation of matter with passivity or receptivity: an assumption that heavily informed Aristotelian gynaecology, wherein ‘hyle-’ was compared with menstrual fluid (as feminine and passive receptacle) and ‘-morphe’ was compared with seminal fluid (as masculine and form-giving nous). Moreover, it was precisely this tradition that inspired Paracelsus in his (deeply misogynistic) quest to remove the female from the reproductive process through the production of an alchemical homunculus via in vitro incubation: the ideal of an artificial (and, specifically, man-made) lifeform, which would be gestated only from pure seminal nous, thus — so it was thought — unalloyed of all dirty traces of feminine corporeality. Purged of feminised base matter, the male-created homunculus would be a creature of pure intellect. (Paracelsus, it appears, may have actually been a hermaphrodite: hence, possibly, his Promethean obsession with surpassing sexual hylomorphism/dimorphism.)[note]cf. William R. Newman, Promethean Ambitions: Alchemy and the Quest to Perfect Nature, (University of Chicago Press, 2005), 197.[/note]


Nevertheless, aside from closely following the Aristotlean tradition in this gynaecological sense, the 16th-17th century iatrochemists were also beholden to subsequent, late medieval developments in the conception of ‘matter’ that had entirely transformed the ontological entailments of commitment to a hylomorphic model. In short, late medieval developments had forged a conception of matter as self-actualised and self-actualising outside of any relation to intelligibility. Thus, it could now finally take on its modern denotation of lethal externality (beforehand, matter could not be conceived of as ‘outsideness’, because — with matter and intelligibility considered as perfectly uniform — there could properly be no ‘outside’ in this novel, modern sense). Only here, with the idea of matter as causing itself outside of mental categories, could it become the alien otherness it is conceivable as today. This potentiated the idea of matter as an ‘outside’.

How did this happen? In short, during the late-medieval fortification of the Christian voluntarist tradition, the scholastic hylomorphic tradition mutated. God was split between the so-called potentia absoluta and potentia ordinata or between his absolute freedom and his constrained intellect — an anonymous and unthinkable/unthinking power and an intelligible and bureaucratic form. The argument ran that the former, the potentia absoluta, could not be constrained by anything… including our ideal categories. As such, it must be conceivable that things could become fully actualised beyond any relationship to mental structure or to conceivability. Thus, where matter was previously only ever conceivable in relationship to mind — and as caused by ideal structures — it now became thinkable as self-actualising outside of any relationship to mind: this is the same as saying that matter became thinkable as self-causing and thus as auto-producing. Hence, the fear of ‘matter without forms’ as something that is self-developing, self-directing, auto-productive, cancerous, etc. The prospect of ‘matter without forms’ transforms from the inert nothing of mere receptivity/passivity to the superlative nothing of an auto-productive zero. In the absence of the top-down anabolism of bureaucratic forms, hyle could switch into malignant self-direction: synecdochal revolt.

This was all a direct consequence of splitting God into an unconstrained power and an ordinate planning: for the crushingly absolute and unconditioned nature of the former smuggles in the ability for things to exceed even the decree of divine planning. God’s uncontrollable Id could recrudesce, dissolving his rightful Mind. Indeed, this likely represents the intellectual historical birth of the modern notion of the unconscious as an internal splitting (alienation). Through this mutation, the collocation of ‘matter and receptivity’ could eventually mutate fully into ‘matter and excessiveness’. With realism (in the full modern sense), matter’s distance from mind inverted from passive nothingness to superlative nothing: not the zero of reality, but the reality of zero. Materiality, by gaining autonomy from intelligibility, became thinkable as anonymous unthinkable power. Crushing anonymous omnipotence. Winnowed from intelligibility as its condition of actuality, matter could now be considered as pure rebellion and revolt against thought (and, thus, also God’s own divine planning). And, emerging from within (immanently), it is rebellion in the precise Satanic sense. Indeed, the fear of auto-production flows from here: matter without forms, exceeding all central planning, all assimilation, all divine eupepsia. Matter as total deregulation. Voluntarist force[note]Voluntarism can carry varying connotations. As a more modern political category, it has carried implications of the limitation of freedom to humanist models of agency. However, in its elder origins in the medieval, speculative excesses surrounding omnipotence, it actually first emerges as a conception in opposition to this later development. Voluntarism as pure freedom, being power beyond limitation, is the destruction of the structures and confines that necessarily delimit and individuate a human subject. Pure power tends towards impersonality. This more eldritch notion of sovereignty is utterly destructive regarding the modern humanist subject, yet, with delicious irony, the former lies at the source of the latter.[/note], defined by its distinction from intellect, accommodates a fear of the Real as self-causing alienness (as something that can exist entirely outside of its thinkability, because it causes itself), thus opening up the way for the horror of synecdochal revolt, as matter becomes self-directing and self-catalytic malignance, looping back into itself and surpassing any top-down rule (be it from Divine fiat, human norms, natural law, or the conditions of its representation and control). And so, matter could become the superlative nothing of an apoptotic hylomorphism rather than the inert nothing of orthodox hylomorphism. (Blindness not as asthenia of sight, but as the excess voluptuousness of darkness visible.) Thus, retrofitted onto the gastrointestinal system of alchemy, we arrive at acephalic excremental revolt. The belly usurps the head. (Just as Pepsi-addiction tends towards living-to-drink, rather than drinking-to-live.)

This heterodox ‘rotten hylomorphism’ was registered variously in the alchemical tradition as tartar, chaos, and nigredo: the excessive and irreducible excrement of the archeus; the blackened, goopy residue left over after fermentative and alchemical reactions. That which exceeds subtilisation or distillation into forms, and yet — as prima materia — remains the unruly condition of all ‘object specificity’.[note]PRIMA MATERIA = 232 = DOUBLE PINCER[/note] Zero becomes both departure and death. Thus, the incessant collocation of ‘womb’ and ‘tomb’ in Early Modern poetics.[note]”Zero is immense.”[/note] Indeed, Paracelsian gynaecology held that, in the absence of male seminal forms, female menstrual fluid would eventually come to feed back into itself and become a runaway self-propelling process of mutative self-development. Menstruation without semen — just like matter without forms — becomes self-feeding chaos. (Again, chaos has now inverted into the overabundance of essences, rather than their asthenia: excess rather than absence.) Arising from folklore tradition, it was generally held that basilisks were the product of wombs that, in the absence of regular male insemination, had looped into runaway auto-generation. Roko’s basilisk is God’s period.[note]Indeed, auto-production — because it is self-causing — is thus intimately tied up with both the demonic (as reproductive nothing) and, also, with temporal insurrection. Pepsi is basilisk-like because, as the avatar of auto-producing chaos, it comes to coerce itself into existence through the looping flows of tartareous base matter.[/note]

This language of apoptotic hylomorphism and chaotic menstrual excess makes its way directly into Paradise Lost, surrounding the crushingly ambiguous and troublingly central figure of Chaos. Milton describes this massa confusa of “embryon Atoms” as “the womb of nature and perhaps her grave” [PL; ii.900, 911]. Zero is tomb and womb. Material zero, as self-looping overabundance, is excess rather than receptivity: granted total autonomy from mentality, matter becomes self-causing (just like demonic zero). In Comus this is described as the “waste fertility” of an overflowing and superfluous Nature.[note]Comus, in Milton: The Complete Shorter Poems, ed. J. Carey, (Longman, 2007), ll.728.[/note] And this links directly to Milton’s extreme denial of ‘nothing’: for, in saying that nothing cannot be no thing, Milton unwittingly galvanises and evaginates it, making it into a powerful something, mutating baseline 0 into an overwhelming ontological force. He writes, in De Doctrina, “darkness was by no means nothing”:

[for if] darkness is nothing, then God surely created nothing by creating darkness, that is, he did and did not create, which is a self‐contradiction.[note]De Doctrina, 289.[/note]

Nothing can’t exist; even purest darkness is something. Thus, the necessitous nature of the infamous “darkness visible” [PL; i.36]: lacunae are excess not absence; violent externality not inert passivity. This even applies to blindness (via its direct connection to flatulence and excrement). Milton describes his blindness with the language of superfluity rather than absence. In the letter to Philarus, Milton writes that, as his

sight was completely destroyed […] abundant light would dart from my closed eyes [and] colours proportionately darker would burst with violence and a sort of crash from within; but now pure black, marked as if with extinguished or ashy light, and as if interwoven with it, pours forth. Yet the mist which always hovers before my eyes both night and day seems always to be approaching white rather than black.[note]De Doctrina, 867-71.[/note]

This aggressive blindness literally is darkness visible. (Significantly, Milton claims that even “pure black” tends, in his failing eyesight, towards “white”, and indeed, at the time, it was known that white was the accumulation of all of the spectrum.)[note]Spinoza, who specialised in ‘glassy essences’, wrote that “a white surface [is one] which reflects all rays of light”. Spinoza, The Correspondence of Spinoza, A. Woolf, (Russell & Russell, 1966), 393.[/note] Thus, seeing everything paradoxically includes within itself total blindness (insofar as seeing everything includes ‘seeing’ nothing, staring straight into the void). The ‘truth’ of sight is blindness, just as the lethal dose of life or truth is death. As such, it is telling that even in Milton’s early optimistic descriptions of perfect perceptive-digestive assimilation, the implication of scatological excess is not far away: the epistemological purity of “Elegy V” is smeared by the poet’s mention that, in seeing everything, he also sees the “Tartara caeca” — ‘caeca’ denoting ‘unseen depths’, but also the ‘blind gut’ or ‘large intestine’.[note]”Elegy V”, ll.20.[/note] Indeed, as we are about to see, “tartar” holds a special place in both Miltonic and Paracelsian cosmology as the rebellious shite of the universe. Nevertheless: because nothing is not a negation but a superlative, even blindness is a special type of seeing: it is seeing too much, it is looking straight into the blinding darkness of the universe’s tartara caeca, the appropriately named blind gut — the solar anus[note]PEPSI CHAOS = 201 = SOLAR ANUS[/note] — of the cosmos. Milton, in short, blinded himself because he looked too far into the fizzing, dyspeptic nigredo of Chaos.

The caecum, or ‘blind gut’.

And so, we arrive finally at Miltonic Chaos. Chaos is the ultimate hypostatisation of the auto-productive tendency latent within matter: the tendency to metastatise into its own self-selecting end-orientation — rather than the holy direction of divinely-sanctioned totality — thus coming more and more to threaten the primacy and integrity of the ‘host’ whole. Chaos is ontological cancer and crap. As Milton decrees, it is “neither sea, nor shore, nor air, nor fire / But all these in their pregnant causes mixed” and it is likewise simultaneously “strait, rough, dense, or rare” (Chaos fizzes) [PL; ii.912-3, 948]. Again, it is ontological overabundance not ontological paucity. As such, whilst wading through this superseding elemental indigest, Satan simultaneously “swims or sinks, or wades, or creeps, or flyes” — there is no medium-specificity here [PL; ii.950]. Qualities and essences overflow rather than withdraw. Thus, despite being hermeneutically linked with ‘ontological deficiency’ (because of its position as an allegorical figure), Milton’s Chaos is total superfluity. Chaos is the excremental pregnancy — the menstrual chaos and “waste fertility” — of God and Creation: the excrement of the cosmic archeus, it is that which fails to be incorporated (digested) into the happy hylomorphism (the agreeable working of the stomach-soul) within God’s intestinal system. Chaos as cosmic dyspepsia.

For Paracelsus, any archeus’s excrement is something called “tartar”. For, upon inspecting the black, thick, putrefied deposits inside wine casks (called ‘tartar’, ‘argol’, or ‘lees’), Paracelsus saw a tangible analogy for Chaos itself. The product of fermentation (i.e. digestion), wine lees was an alchemical analogy for universal excrement. It would come to be deployed by Paracelsus as symbol for the indivisible remainder of digestion. Accordingly, as physician, Paracelsus diagnosed this necrotic, blackened matter as the same stuff that built up within bodies and caused mortality (namely, in intestinal ulcers, gallstones and other such maladies). This tartar — whether in wine casks or human guts — came, ultimately, from what Paracelsus identified as the “superfluity” of all matter. For Paracelsus, following the tendency of a rotten hylomorphism, matter both in metabolism and perception always exceeds. Keeping this in mind, we now turn to the moment of Creation itself as depicted in Paradise Lost. Here Milton describes how God “as with a mantle did invest” the “rising world” as he comes to separate it — via divine dialysis — from the “waters dark and deep”, from the dark liquid abyss prior to creation. Just as the alchemists had done incessantly before him, Milton cannot help but give this watery filtration a gastric-scatological twist.

His brooding wings the spirit of God outspread
And vital virtue infuse’d, and vital warmth
Throughout the fluid Mass, but downward purg’d
The black tartareous cold infernal dregs [PL; vii.235-8]

(Note that “vital warmth” was associated, in the hylomorphic-gynaecologic tradition, with the formative and nous­-giving sperm — as contradistinguished from the “cold” base matter of menstrual hyle.) The implication here — via the deployment of the Paracelsian word “tartareous” to describe the “infernal dregs” — is unavoidably excremental.[note]In his edition of Paradise Lost, Flannagan annotates this passage claiming divinity ‘seems to excrete the regions of Hell’ (545). Fowler, in his edition, disclaims it as ‘not scatological’ (403), following Kerrigan; Kerrigan, however, does indeed admit it as ‘fecal’, ‘excremental’ and ‘in the anal mode’, in The Sacred Complex: On the Pyschogenesis of Paradise Lost (Harvard University Press, 1983), 69.[/note] Indeed, others amongst Milton’s contemporaries, those also schooled in iatrochemical lore, had reached similar conclusions: Thomas Tymme had reported that Moses “tells us that the Spirit of God moved upon the water” and therefore by “God’s Halchymie” the “corrupt stinking feces, or dross matter” was brought, in a digestive process of filtration, to the “christalline cleernes” of the firmament.[note]Thomas Tymme, The Practise of Chymicall, and Hermeticall Physicke, for the preservation of health. Written in Latin by Iosephus Quersitanus, Doctor of Phisicke. And translated into English, by Thomas Timme, minister (London, 1605), i.[/note]

God shits out the creation.


Pepsoidal Nigredo / Modern Alchemy

There is simply no way that Milton would have been unaware of the resonances he was weaving here. For Milton would have known all about tartar due to his own physical ailments. Contemporary medicinal understanding held that ulcers were tartareous growths: ontologically adjacent to the superfluities left over from fermentations. Paracelsus himself was a prolific and influential writer on this topic: for him, ulcers — like Satanic revolt — were malignant excrescences of auto-production, of synecdochal usurpation (as such, Milton would have understood his microscale splanchnic putrefaction in much the same way as the macroscale ‘intestine strife’ of heavenly revolt). As already explored in this series, Milton likely had a peptic ulcer. Moreover, a major symptom of this deadly ulcer would have been ‘melena’: the “passing of dark tarry faeces” containing blood.[note]OED.[/note] Identical in appearance to the wine tartar or ‘lees’ found in the bowels of brewing vats: the muck that Paracelsus had nominated as symbolic of the chaotic nigredo of creation. Thus, one must emphasise the striking fact that Milton — no stranger to ‘tartareous’ faeces and the medical literature surrounding it — chose to describe the very act of Biblical Creation as itself “tartareous”.

Significantly, in the chronotemporal layout of Paradise Lost, this cosmogenic bowel evacuation precedes Genesis’s separation of the waters. The vitreous filtration, then, was preceded by divine diarrhoea. Milton, elsewhere, writes that the hyaline separation was a “mere minister” of Creation, for “the spirit only brooded on the surface of waters which had already been created”.[note]De Doctrina, 287 — my emp.[/note] Thus, we note that nature’s crystalline aspect is ontologically posterior to its faecal aspect — just as Crystal Pepsi was merely a camouflaged version of the obsidian original. As such, the core paradox arising from the laws and fundaments of Milton’s miniature universe comes into full focus: all things — even the seemingly perspicuous firmaments — are sedimented, condensed, or coagulated out of base Chaos. With an ambiguity that resounds throughout his entire universe, Milton presents his Chaos as equally antecedent and as equally infinite as God: this “infinite Abyss” [PL; ii.405] is “Ancestor […] of Nature” [PL; ii.896]; and as “eldest Night” [PL; ii.894] it is properly the “Womb of nature” [PL; ii.911]. And so, we have located this as the originary trauma attendant upon the internal workings of Miltonic cosmogeny and metaphysics: this is the secret of the Miltonic chronotope. Beginning in an excremental ‘purging’ of tartareous prima materia from the godhead, the universe forever encases within itself the excessive capacity of matter: that which refuses (and routes around) imposition and regimentation. As such, the default state of matter is not obedience or formfulness: the gut floras of creation do not harmonically “sing their great Creator” by default, but only by the coercion of constant stratification. The default state of matter is usurpation and escape (hence, the constant risk of ontic synecdoche). And this means that the risk of chaotic relapse quivers at all ontological echelons as indwelling potency. Consequently, this process of divine digestion is continual and unceasing. Because Chaos is the baseline and default, God must keep anabolizing the “Lump” of increatum in order to stop it relapsing into primordial formlessness. Thus, excretion and dialysis are condemned to inexorability.

This can be seen in Milton’s depiction of Limbo as an immune-sewage system for the tumours of hylomorphism. That is, all the excessive and teratological forms of the world pass through Limbo — as the colon of Creation — before being excreted into the Outside. All “unaccomplished works of nature’s hand / Abortive monstrous or unkindly mixed / Dissolved on earth” pass into Limbo, as Milton envisions [PL; iii.455-7]. Moreover, Limbo is contiguous with Chaos as the nethermost port of Creation: described as a “boundless continent” with “ever-threatening storms […] blustering around [PL; iii.425-6]. And, as such, its purpose is clearly to crap out all the destabilizing matter needing to be excreted from right creatio. As such, Limbo is seen to contain a peristaltic procession of “embryos and idiots”, alongside Enoch’s Nephilim, born of ancient miscegenation “betwixt the angelic and human kind” [PL; iii.462]. Continuing the deep connection between metabolism and epistemology, Limbo also therefore contains theological and philosophical excrescences too: “relics, beads” and “dispenses [or] bulls” are farted out by the “violent cross wind” [PL; iii.489-92]. (Limbo, thus, is a cosmological limbic system: it filters out dangerous forms and ejaculates them into chaos.) These internal specters of chaos-relapse are pushed outwards, and they “pass the planets seven, and pass the fixed” [PL; iii.481], before their “abortive” purge into the Outside. This is the anus of the universe. As such, we see how everything — at all ontological levels — expresses the potential to collapse back into effervescent, liquid blackness. In short, the matter of Chaos’s “outrageous […] sea” is imposed with God’s forms to become the eupeptic “crystalline ocean” that we witness as the “new-made World”, and yet the “extremes / Contiguous” will always loom underneath [vii.212, 272–3]. (Identical, again, to the fact that consumers could taste that Crystal Pepsi was a lie because the taste of saccharine blackness lurked beneath perspicuous appearance.) It is the cosmic unconscious of ontological dyspepsia — the “tartara caeca” or “blind gut” — rumbling and gurgling beneath the glassy “hyaline”: and, like “Acheron”, it is “black and deep” and fizzy [PL; ii.578]. Quite simply, Chaos is not defeated but only temporarily repressed by the forms of divine central-planning: like a liquid or a gas under pressure it always struggles to release itself and to fizz forth from the depths.

boilt peps



So, we turn, once more, from the birth of the cosmos, back to the bubbling birth of Pepsi Cola. Immediately, one notes the resonances between the wine tartrates that Paracelsus describes and Pepsi-Cola: blackened and tartareous, wine lees were often also sugary and sweet. Certainly, it has become a memetic contagion of late to unveil this viscous blackened mass as the true state of Pepsi Cola (YouTube videos abound depicting the results of boiling cola).[note][/note] As a form of modern alchemy, one ferments the cola into a similar chemical state as the tartrates that inspired Paracelsus to describe the “superfluity” latent in all matter. Subsequently, we note the crucial fact that van Helmont first discovered carbon dioxide — thus initiating the chain of events that led to the invention of Pepsi Cola — precisely by studying tartar. Spurred on by Paracelsus’s obsession with this particular substance (and the centrality it came to enjoy in his mentor’s metaphysics), he studied at great length the fermenting process of wine. Observing the emanations from wine vats, he first came to the conclusion that they were releasing “gas sylvestre”. Thus, just as Priestley would later invent soft drinks through studying the fermentation process of beer, carbonation was first discovered by van Helmont through his inspection of the ferment of wine.[note]Indeed, beer brewing produces an equivalent tartrate substance to wine lees, referred to as ‘trub’.[/note] Pepsi’s discovery arises out of tartareous muck. And the occult synchronicities continue to surge backwards as Pepsi-Chaos loops into its own historical creation: for the very word ‘gas’ derives directly from ‘chaos’.[note]SOFT DRINK = 197 = PRIME CHAOS [/note] 

Because of the link Paracelsus had made between tartareous ferment and the prima materia, van Helmont — from the very beginning — connected carbon dioxide and carbonation with chaos. To carbonate something was to impregnate it with a chaotic essence. And accordingly, ‘chaos’ is invoked in ‘gas’ through the phoneme ‘g’, which in van Helmont’s native Dutch sounds exactly like the ‘kh’ in the Greek ‘khaos’.[note]It also shares resonances with the word ‘geest’ or ‘geist’ (for spirit or ghost).[/note] (Furthermore, it holds resonances with Dutch words for fermentation.) With this coinage, van Helmont meant to signpost the fact that CO2 gas is — precisely — chaos. Thus, the relation to chaos and indigestion is philologically embedded within the word ‘carbonation’. For, as we have already seen, ‘indigest’ was itself an ancient substantive for chaos. Moreover, ‘chaos’ itself — coming from the Greek verb ‘to yawn’ — is related to Indo-European roots for the term ‘gape’: echoing the orifices that pumped the world with excremental entropy-chaos in the first place. Helmont continued to deepen this link, explaining that his “gas” is a form of “halitus”: meaning ‘wind’ or ‘emanation’, from which our term ‘halitosis’ derives. Chaos thus refers not only to prima materia but also to the gassy emanations of gaping orifices. Excrement is chaotic; chaos is excremental. “Every flatus in us is a wild Gas”, he wrote, “stirred up by digestion from meats, drinks and excrements”. Carbonation — the secret behind soft drinks — is originally discovered through alchemical study of the chaotic effluence of the cosmos. In naming Pepsi Cola after dyspepsia, Caleb Bradham was ventriloquised by this rich tradition that arcs back across occult history.[note]CALEB BRADHAM’S DRINK = 307 = PEPSI COSMOGENY[/note]

Thus, we are forced to conclude that Pepsi is intimately related to the Chaos of Milton’s Paradise Lost (sharing their genesis and inspiration in the gastric-iatrochemical metaphysics of Paracelsus and van Helmont), and insofar as both Pepsi and Chaos are auto-productive, they allow for the temporal looping (auto-production tends towards self-causation, which is a form of retrochronic exchange) that reveals the occult retrocausal pathways, opened up to us via this alchemical knowledge, by which Pepsi ventriloquises Miltonic Chaos, just as Miltonic Chaos prefigures Pepsi.

Tomorrow: ‘Sugar & Zero, Milton & Böhme: the Dyspeptic Abyss of Theogony’