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, http://www.xenosystems.net/abstract-horror-part-1/[/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


part 3 – cosmic dys𝔭𝔢𝔭𝔰𝔦a & divine excrement: or, an essay unveiling the teleoplexic identity of miltonic chaos, capitalist nigredo and alchemical pepsi cola™

Yesterday: ‘Crystal Pepsi / Crystal Hyaline: or, How to See with your Gut’

DAY 3. Peristaltic Metaphysics and the Invention of Pepsi


Milton connected his blindness to his gastric problems. He suffered from severe gout, and, moreover, was afflicted by stomach ulcers. His eventual death seems to have been caused — as recent biographers have argued, after consulting medical specialists — by a peptic ulcer (an ulcer of the gastrointestinal tract). It is feasible, his biographers write, that, besides gout, ‘Milton’s other chronic complaints […] included abdominal discomfort and bloating, consonant with [peptic ulcer]’.[note]G. Campbell, & T.N. Corns,  John Milton: Life, Work and Thought (OUP, 2008), 211.[/note] (The flatulent poet lists “intestine stone and ulcer, colic pangs” on the menu of uniquely postlapsarian punishments for mankind [PL; xi.484.]

In 1893 — more than two centuries after Milton’s magnum opus — a North Carolina drugstore-owner by the name of Caleb Bradham (1867-1934), produced his own magnum opus. Of course, “magnum opus” originally refers to the alchemical-chyrsopoeian process of transmuting prima materia into the elixir of life; as his life’s achievement, Bradham’s product was indeed a veritable magnum opus, but rather than purifying matter into crystalline perspicuity, his elixir intensified the depuration and ontological liquefaction that had been set in motion with the Fall. In the terms of Chesterton’s adage, what Bradham had unleashed was inherently tied with this Fall, even in spite of its chronological distance. The twenty-six-year-old pharmacist had produced what he soon dubbed “Pepsi Cola”: a lapis philosophorum for the capitalized — that is, fallen — age.


Previously known simply as “Brad’s Drink”, Bradham — savvy businessman that he was — changed the name to Pepsi in order to advertise (camouflage) his beverage as a medicine. Hence, the name ‘Pepsi’, inspired by the Ancient Greek root πέπτω (‘peptō’, denoting digestion).[note]Dr. Pepper was possibly named with a similar proviso in mind. Everyone knows that Coca-Cola is so named because of its links to the then medicinal substance, cocaine.[/note] Thus Pepsi was first sold as a medicinal aid to eupepsia, exactly the issue that had so blackened Milton’s eyesight. However, carbonated water is now known to increase symptoms of an irritable bowel via the release of CO2 into the intestines.[note]This is likely why consumers subconsciously rejected the marketing collocation of Crystal Pepsi with hyaline perspicuity.[/note] This renders Bradham’s marketing highly ironic considering that Pepsi actually becomes a prime — at least, highly visible — lubricant for capital’s forces of terrestrial putrefaction and ontological liquidation, and, rather than any elixir of life, its surge across the globe represents thanatropic return to blackened prima materia.[note]CALEB BRADHAM = 178 = MELTDOWN = TIDAL WAVE[/note] Occult connections and synchronicities between Pepsi and Milton flow backwards into time from this point onwards. It was not only Pepsi, but carbonated drinks in general, that camouflaged their bootstrapped passage into the world via a tactical co-option of the ancient belief that fizzy drinks aid indigestion (and, in particular, peptic ulcers).[note]PEPTIC ULCER = 227 = TIME ANOMALY[/note] Milton — sufferer of severe dyspepsia and ulcer — will have been intimately aware of this tradition, and fittingly,  Bradham capitalized on it by branding his new tarry drink with the tagline

Exhilarating, Invigorating, Aids Digestion.

Did Milton die — outmanoeuvred by his own internal peptic ‘satan’, an infernal and internal revolt — because he could not drink enough of Bradham’s Pepsi elixir? No. Quite the opposite: he was already drowning in templex cola. Imagine an autopsy report for the blind poet. His internal viscera coated in thick, black, sugary tartar. ‘How is this possible?’ you ask, reeling… ‘Pepsi invents itself from the future’ something whispers back. Suddenly, you understand the shape of terrestrial history.



In his 1654 letter to François Thévenin — after delineating the medical connection between his dyspepsia and his blindness — Milton links himself to Phineus, the King of Thrace — brutally punished by the gods — a penalty that involved his eyesight being taken away. It simultaneously entailed him being eternally tortured by harpies who would constantly besmirch and befoul all of Phineus’s banquets and dinners. Excreting all over his food, the harpies ensured that the king would have to forever consume only indigestible putrescence. The reason why Phineus was prosecuted by the gods? Because, so the story goes, of his Promethean power of prophecy (the ability, that is, to see beyond empirical time and into the Outside that structures it). To punish his ability to see the future, the gods took away Phineus’s ability to see anything. Thus, here, Milton is subtly linking his own blindness and his own problems with food to a knack for prophecy. Like Phineus, Milton — for his prophetic part as templex harbinger of the unleashing of bootstrapping Chaos-Pepsi — also lost his sight. Insofar as Milton theorised upon the auto-productive tendencies of Chaos he was simultaneously prophesying upon the self-constructive tendency of the positive feedback loops constitutive of effervescing modernity. And prophecy, as they say, is indistinguishable from retrochronic information exchange. Bubbling Pepsi, via such retrojection, mobilises Chaos as a symbol and harbinger for itself.




By weaving perception — and even reasoning — into a continuum with digestive process, Paradise Lost presents an uninterrupted metabolic continuity flowing from material to ideal. This is a founding ontological principle of Milton’s fictional world-model, his chronotope. The poet folds digestion inside-out: extending it extra-somatically, making it the cohesive — or binding — principle of his entire universe. Digestion becomes the heuristic under which Milton legitimates his well-known commitment to metaphysical monism. Thus: a nutritive monism. As he emphatically decrees, “whatever was created, needs / To be sustained and fed; of elements / The grosser feeds the purer” [PL; v.414-6]. On a number of occasions in Paradise Lost, Milton stresses that the universe is not constructed of divergent metaphysical orders, but is — rather — somewhat like a ‘holobiont’: an assemblage of varying ecological units that are nested within one alimentary unity. Indeed, even the “empyrean” is folded into continuity with this nourishing process. Lower feeds upon higher, interminably. Thus, the cosmos becomes cast as a universal process, weaving the higher and lower into a procedural nutritive unity. Indeed, in order to buttress his monistic commitments, this process of cosmic digestion lends itself to Milton as the perfect heuristic to illustrate a continuum between thinking and being, or even creator and creation, because digestion is the process whereby unorganised matter becomes organically structured into the make-up of life itself: it demonstrates, in deeply tangible terms, an actually existing continuum between ‘stuff’ and ‘spirit’, between ‘stoff’ und ‘geist’, that takes place constantly within all of our own bodies. (As another benefit, the universe’s metaphysical make-up therefore becomes intuitive through splanchnic interoception: therefore legitimating not intellectual intuition but metabolic intuition.) This is why, for example, Milton goes out of his way to stress that even angels require “food alike” to man, and feel “keen despatch / Of real hunger” [PL; v.407, 436]. Just as the lower is linked to the higher, because nutritive process is continuous with spiritual process, so too is the higher necessarily folded into the lower. In Book V, Adam offers sustenance to the visiting angel, Raphael. Adam — naïve and fresh-made — worries that his earthly nutriment may prove “unsavoury food perhaps / To spiritual natures” such as that of a seraphim. In response, Raphael eloquently — and politely — explains:

                                     food alike those pure
Intelligential substances require
As doth your rational; and both contain
Within them every lower faculty
Of sense, whereby they hear, see, smell, touch, taste,
Tasting concoct, digest, assimilate,
And corporeal to incorporeal turn. [PL; v.407-13]

All beings exhibit anabolism, as “the creation groaneth and travileth” together for (digestive) salvation (Romans 8.22). All things “concoct, digest, assimilate”, thus “corporeal to incorporeal” tend. This intriguing schema, crucially, is a manoeuvre smuggled in from alchemical thinking.


The iatrochemists and chyrsopoeians had long been encouraged by biblical Genesis’s image of a universe created via a process of liquid separation, a hyaline distillation. It legitimated their idea that the universe was itself alchemical in fundamental nature. To put it differently, those who — with obsessive determination — laboured to imitate nature’s work (through the manufacture of artificial life in the pursuit of the alchemical homunculus) would obviously be allured by nature’s own imitation of their work. And what was nature’s imitation of alchemy? Digestion, of course. Biological metabolism can easily be cast as a mirroring — an ontological analogy — of the alchemist’s own, artificial procedures of distillation, purification, and subtilisation. Not only did alchemists consequently deploy this analogy to authenticate their own endeavour, they also used it as the foundation upon which to build a full-blown alchemical-digestive metaphysics. The renowned physician and iatrochemist Paracelsus (1493-1541) took this the furthest: resulting in his postulation that the entire universe is quite simply a stomach.[note]Instigator of modern chemistry, usurper of Galenic hegemony, and possible hermaphrodite, Philippus Aurelous Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim — self-styled as Paracelsus — was a Swiss physician (born in a town called Egg) who, despite the amnesia of later ages, can be compared to a figure like Descartes in terms of the stature and extent of the influence he exerted.[/note]

Paracelsus was certain that everything was suffused within a liquid process of dialysis and filtration, the eternally continuing watery act of Genesis’s Creation. All things, he theorised, were ongoing, individualised versions of this original alchemical “firmament”: accordingly, Paracelsus located the “firmament” in man as his alimentary canal, and related it to the “firmament” in heaven (again, hyaloides to hyaline).[note]Paracelsus uses the idea of “limus terrae” as bridge between micro- and macrocosm. “Limus terrae” is the “primordial stuff of the earth” that God formed Adam out of, but it is also “an extract of the firmament, of the universe of stars, and at the same time of all the elements”. Star-stuff, indeed.[/note] To nomenclate his schema, Paracelsus invented his own idiosyncratic twist on the ancient anima mundi idea: the “archeus”, positioned as a cosmic digestive process, suffusing and conjoining all.[note]ARCHEUS = 138 = COSMOS[/note] The Great Chain of Being becomes a gastrointestinal tract, ontology a caecal labyrinth. For, as nature’s immanent alchemist, this archeus is the “physician of nature” and “the workman who gives origins by drawing and forging all”.[note]W. Pagel, Joan Baptista Van Helmont: Reformer of Science and Medicine (CUP, 2002), 99.[/note] All individual stomachs are objectivizations of this Absolute metabolism: conditioned individuations of an unconditional gut; an ur-gut which therefore becomes the very condition of possibility for all subsidiary digestions. Paracelsus’s influential Flemish disciple, Joan Baptiste van Helmont (1580-1644) accordingly spoke of this cosmological archeus as “comprehend[ing] and cherish[ing] within itself the Sun, and the herd of lesser stars, which diffuse[s] through all the limbes or parts of this great Animal, the World”.[note]W. Charleton, & J.B. van Helmont, A Ternary of Paradoxes: The Magnetick Cure of Wounds, Nativity of Tartar in Wine, Image of God in Man – Written Originally by Joh. Bapt. Van Helmont, and Translated, Illustrated, and Ampliated by Walter Charleton, Doctor in Physick, and Physician to the late King (London, 1650), 44.[/note] Microcosmically recapitulated in the individual, this becomes the “plastic spirit, [that] in the seed comprehends, contrives, and models the whole figure of Man […] limns out all the lineaments [of] the parts”.[note]Ibid.58.[/note] Linking planetary distillation to gastric distillation, Helmont wrote that “in the bowels, the planetary Spirits doe most shine forth, even as also, in the whole influous Archeus, the courses and forces of the Firmament do appear”.[note]J.B. van Helmont, Oriatrike, or, Physick Refined: the common errors therein refuted, and the whole art reformed and rectified: being a new rise and progress of the phylosophy and medicine for the destruction of diseases and prolongation of life, trans. J. Chandler (London, 1662), 36.[/note] Man truly is the microcosm; but not through his head or through his heart; rather, he symbolises the cosmos through his gut. Our bowels are made of star-stuff, a black-eyed Carl Sagan would intone…


Such ideas soon made their way across the Channel to England, and thus to Milton. Thomas Tymme (?-1620), puritan clergyman and dabbler in alchemy, attempted to gloss the bible with his own vision of Paracelsian-digestive “Halchymie” (the prefix ‘Hal-‘ meaning ‘of the sea’, thus denoting the firmamental-gastric ocean that permeates through each individual).[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)[/note] Another major disseminator was Walter Charleton (1619-1707). He translated van Helmont’s De Magnetica Vulnerum (1621) and A Ternary of Paradoxes (1650). He would write, accordingly, of the “poverty of our Reason compared to the wealthy harvest of [van Helmont and Paracelsus]”.[note]W. Charleton & J.B. van Helmont, A Ternary of Paradoxes: The Magnetick Cure of Wounds, Nativity of Tartar in Wine, Image of God in Man – Written Originally by Joh. Bapt. Van Helmont, and Translated, Illustrated, and Ampliated by Walter Charleton, Doctor in Physick, and Physician to the late King (London, 1650), 96.[/note] Physician to Charles I and II, Charleton was personally known by many of Milton’s network of correspondents. Being a member of the Royal Society, Charleton knew Henry Oldenberg: a close friend of Milton’s. Furthermore, Oldenburg himself was acquantined with van Helmont’s own son: Francisus Mercurius van Helmont, publisher of his father’s works and his alchemical protégé. As early as 1658, Oldenburg had met the younger van Helmont (and described their “congress” together in a letter to Boyle).[note]Henry Oldenburg, The Correspondence of Henry Oldenburg, ed. A.R. Hall & M.B. Hall, xiii. (University of Winconsin Press, 1986), i.176-77.[/note] Between this time and 1671, Olenburg went from denigrating Franciscus to extolling the “distinguished van Helmont, who is very closely bound to me by friendship” (as Oldenberg boasted in letter to Leibniz).[note]Ibid., viii.182-3.[/note] Elsewhere, we see members of the so-called Hartlib circle (Hartlib also being a friend of Milton’s) involved with Helmontian dissemination (both Clerciuzio[note]A. Clericuzio, Elements, Principles and Corpuscles: A Study of Atomism and Chemistry in the Seventeenth Century (Springer, 2001), 90.[/note] and Hutton[note]S. Hutton, Anne Conway: A Woman Philosopher (Cambridge University Press, 2004), 143.[/note] have since noted the primacy of the Hartlib circle in promoting Helmontianism in England). Thus, we may safely guarantee Milton’s knowledge and awareness of this alchemical lineage: stretching from Paracelsus to the van Helmont family, through its English propagators, and finally to Milton himself.[note]Milton critics corroborate this hypothesis, noticing the presence of deeply Paracelsian ideas in Milton, and deeming these alchemists ‘chief sources’ for Milton’s philosophy. cf. Rogers, The Matter of Revolution: Science, Poetry, & Politics in the Age of Milton (Cornell University Press, 1996), 135.[/note] Concordantly, on just a cursory glance, we see that the metaphysical structure of Paradise Lost is suffused with archeus­-type ideas, which help to prosecute Milton’s own version of a nutritive monism. As Raphael had said, everything — stretching from inorganic to spiritual — must “concot, digest, [and] assimilate”. He explicates further:

For know, whatever was created, needs
To be sustained and fed; of elements
The grosser feeds the purer, earth the sea,
Earth and the sea feed air, the air those fires
Ethereal, and as lowest first the moon;
Whence in her visage round those spots, unpurged
Vapours not yet into her substance turned.
Nor doth the moon no nourishment exhale
From her moist continent to higher orbs.
The sun that light imparts to all, receives
From all his alimental recompense
In humid exhalations, and at even
Sups with the ocean [PL; v.414-26]

Soaking in gastric imagery, we see here each rung of the Great Chain “feeding” the higher, providing “nourishment” that “exhale[s]” from “moist continent[s] to higher orbs”, which themselves “sup” upon “humid” and “alimental recompense” from below. Indeed, the Great Chain — as a conjunction of the Principle of Continuity and the Principle of Unilinear Progression — is easily retrofitted onto gastric sensibilities: Continuity implies that, because everything is infinitely divisible into itself, that nothing is inherently indigestible to Being; and, Unilinearity, implies a process of progressive peristalsis by which everything tends towards nourishment. Creation is a food-chain. In Charleton’s words, “every Creature doth […] possess a particular Firmament [i.e. digestive waters]; by the mediation of which, Superior bodies Symbolize, and hold a reciprocal correspondence with inferior, […] by the law of friendship”.[note]Charleton, Ternary of Paradoxes, 35.[/note] We see this “law of friendship” perfectly encapsulated here, as lower interminably nourishes higher. Returning to Paradise Lost, Raphael continues his exposition, describing how — “by gradual scale sublimed” — all of the “vital spirits aspire” up the scala naturae [PL; v.479]. Taken together in this cosmic peristalsis, all items exhibit the alchemical ideal of materials tending towards their purest state. And it is through his dance of digestive entelechy that we see the alembic universe tending toward perfect alchemic sublimation: towards purer, spiritual matter (spiritual anabolism, as “corporeal to incorporeal turn” [PL; v.413]). Indeed, it is implied that, through this great process, Adam and Eve could have eventually metabolised their somaform existences and fully sublimated themselves into angelic uncarnate forms. Angels are near to the top of the food-chain: accordingly, just as they enjoy more a more perspicuous intellectual essence, they all enjoy greater gastrointestinal apitutde and efficiency. As they are unrestricted by human finitude, they enjoy “intuitive” rather than “discursive” faculties of knowledge; and, correlatively, the angelic digestive tract is likewise noticeably more perfect. That is, angels hardly need to shit. Milton takes pains to point out that

                     what redounds, transpires
Through spirits with ease [PL; v.438-9]

Moreover, this angelic eupepsia is immediately described as being motored by a “concotive heat / To transubstantiate” foodstuff, just like the “empiric alchemist” who can turn “metals of drossiest ore to perfect gold” [PL; v.437-40]. And so, the universe is alchemical because the universe is digestive. This is the cosmic version of the alchemical magnum opus: the progression from nigredo, as base matter, upwards to spiritual purity.


It is no wonder that Milton requisitioned the alchemical metaphysic, because it was so suited to his own commitments. For a start, because of his monistic predilections, Milton denied the ‘existence’ of ‘nothing’ with particular vehemence. He insists in his De Doctrina Christiana, following axioms from his Ars Logicae, that ‘nothing’ simply doesn’t have a place in the universe. (However, we shall soon see how his attempt actually galvanises void and substantivates zero.) He claims a thing cannot “be constructed out of nothing in the way it could from a number of components”.[note]De Doctrina Christiana in, Vol.VIII of The Complete Works of John Milton, ed. J.K. Hale & J.D. Cullington, (Oxford University Press, 2008- ), 289.[/note] (As such, it follows that “darkness was by no means nothing”: “[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]Ibid.[/note] Consequently, denying a creatio ex nihilo and resisting any pre-existent matter outside of the Godhead, Milton comes to embrace creatio ex deo — a creation from out of God. Again, this is why the physiologically inflected archeus model lends itself so well to Miltonic cosmology. Creation is God’s digestive tract. In an internal process of subtilisation, God anabolises crude materials into structured creation. This, clearly, becomes a gastric twist on hylomorphism. God’s endogenous anabolic process lends forms to the base matter — the prima materia — of Creation. The Deity takes up matter and builds it up into increasingly subtile forms: just as our bodies subtilize nutrition into spirit. This transparently apes the Body-Politic: and, indeed, this hylomorphism is also precisely a form of governance. God, as the ‘head’, resides over the creative ‘belly’ by imparting his form and shape to the raw material of the archeus. On first glance, it at least seems that all of the subjects in this body-politic obey their sovereign. Describing the ‘gut flora’ of his cosmic holobiont, implying that the archeus descends to the most microscopic levels of matter, Milton writes that

Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth
Unseen, both when we wake, and when we sleep:
All these with ceaseless praise his works behold
Both day and night: how often from the steep
Of echoing hill or thicket have we heard
Celestial voices to the midnight air,
Sole, or responsive each to other’s note
Singing their great Creator? [PL; iv.675-82]

All the taxonomies of Being sing the God that ingested, solidified and ‘stratified’ them into existence. Picking up the imagery of plenitude and casting it in strikingly similar language, Deleuze and Guattari write that

[e]very stratum is a judgement of God; not only do plants and animals, orchids and wasps, sing or express themselves, but so do rocks and rivers; every stratified thing on earth.[note]Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (Continuum, 2004), 49.[/note]

However, as they go on to elaborate,

[t]he strata are judgements of God; stratification in general is the entire system of the judgement of God (but the earth, or the body without organs, constantly eludes that judgement, flees and becomes destratified, decoded, deterritorialised).[note]Ibid.[/note]

Where stratification is eupepsia, what are the chances — within Milton’s universe — of cosmic dyspeptic destratification? Just as angels still need to purge themselves, where is the nigredo, the tartareous excrement of the archeus? Will the earth itself fizz with effervescing, liquefying, sugary blackness, as the rebounding of the abyssal Deep from crystalline assimilation? Like a peptic ulcer unto the universe itself, all of that which exceeds assimilation — and thus refuses God’s stratifying forms — gains the troubling ability for auto-production. Matter-without-form, the rebellious excrement that exceeds divine digestion, is Chaos: which, surprisingly or unsurprisingly, since the Ancients, has also been referred to as “indigest”. (Ovid refers to Chaos as “rudis indigestaque moles”.) This was a collocation ripe for lock-in. Dryden wrote of the “[r]ude undigested Mass; / A lifeless Lump, unfashio’d and unfram’d, / Of jarring Seeds and justly Chaos nam’d”. Earlier, Shakespeare, in King John, had written of setting “form upon that indigest”. Being a substantive, or a nominalised adjective, Milton would certainly have appreciated Shakespeare’s language here: it is of a piece with “darkness visible”, “palpable obscure”, and — of course — “vast abrupt”.)[note]Cf. A recent article in MVU’s Plutonics journal on an intriguing orthographic anomaly found in new amanuensis manuscripts recovered from the Fitzbarrow estate. This orthographic puzzle appears as further proof of the templex cross currents streaming backwards between Pepsi and Miltonic verse.[/note]

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Returning briefly to Deleuze and Guattari we note, in the section quoted above, the infamous announcement that “God is a Lobster”.[note]Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (Continuum, 2004), 40.[/note] One wonders why it should be lobsters that bear the mark of infernal Pepsi on their doubly-articulating claws.[note]https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/11/lobster-claw-pepsi-soda-can-new-brunswick-spd/[/note] Why has Pepsi begun to invade even the abyssopelagic zones of the earth? And why has it chosen crustaceans as its avatar?


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