There is a short story by Jorge Luis Borges which details an elaborate game of geometrical entrapment. 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.
Every morning in [location not found] is the same. Wracked coughing as the body realizes it has just spent another night intaking poisons. Sheets yellow with a thousand nights of accumulated sweat, but not worth wasting washing water on. The window is open to the heat of the veld and the gibbering xenocomm of population and city. Light filling the room like some horrible fluid, spilling over the windowsill and pooling onto the floor. Looking out over the buildings, so new and so harried they still bristle with rebar, seemingly leaning toward the Spine, thick with soft transit tubes hung from cables as it tumbles toward the coast. Sky to sea a sheet, nicotine colored, the true location of the horizon as good your guess as mine, a bleary latitudinal omphalos only discernible as a subtle desaturation. From the rim of the world civilian skimmers and Maersk behemoths alike issue in some secretive gnosis.
From the transcendent perspective of history, the city of Hong Kong appears as an abomination. Since the island’s annexation to the British Empire and the foundation of the City of Victoria in the 1840s, it has remained an anomaly, provoking, in varying degrees, contempt, impatience, and outrage among all those bureaucrats charged with its ultimate imperial oversight. From Charles Elliot, Hong Kong’s first, unmourned administrator — whose recompense for securing the isle was a letter from Lord Palmerston informing him that in taking this “barren Island with hardly a House upon it” he had “disobeyed and neglected [his] Instructions”, and would promptly be relieved of his post — to CY Leung, whose handling of the present swelling vortex of cultural conflict lost him the Party Centre’s confidence and his office shortly thereafter, few of Hong Kong’s administrators have escaped some measure of opprobrium from their overseers across the sea, whichever sea that may be.
When a new fragment of an original amanuensis manuscript for John Milton’s Paradise Lost was discovered last year in a storage facility in South London, the philology community found itself confronted with an unintelligible anachronism that, despite the confirmed authenticity of the document in question, has yet to find a legitimate place in Milton scholarship. Two articles published in the November 2016 issue of Modern Philology and the February 2017 issue of MVU’s contentious Plutonics journal, testify to the bewilderment of those few scholars who have taken the recent findings seriously enough to warrant academic appraisal.
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.
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.
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 and 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.”
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.
Just as fizzing water seeps from the earth, the chthonic and chaomantic black sun (sol niger) of Pepsi Xanadu 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’. 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.
Insofar as Milton’s Chaos is inherently auto-productive it holds the ability to be ‘about’ something (i.e. a 19th century consumer product) that was only made real centuries later, precisely because this latter was ‘realised’ by the tendencies that Miltonic Chaos identifies. This ability for something entirely temporally distal to invade the signifying universe of a poetic chronotope is, again, the perfect symbol for the temporal distortion attendant upon self-causing auto-production. Milton’s poem retrospectively becomes about Chaos — not God, or Adam, or even Satan — insofar as his Chaos has made itself real under the aspect of Pepsi-Capital’s liquefaction of reality.
The Millennium is ten years out, but for Baudrillard it might as well have already happened. The eclipsing of the communists’ historical dream by globalized flows of floating capital and information ushered in a cold, glacial stasis: the enveloping of any sense of forward momentum by the simulation of what had once been real events. As ubiquitous media begins to seep down to every crack and crevice and the whirlwind fades into the sensation of an odd vertigo, the only question Baudrillard finds himself capable of asking is this: “What do we do now that the orgy is over?”
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”.