Friday, January 8, 2016


1. One of my favorite current non-fiction authors is Gary Lachman, who also happens to have been a founding member of the seminal New Wave band, Blondie. Talk about an interesting life! I regularly recommend Lachman's books to young seekers who ask my opinion for "a good place to start" doing some serious study of the hidden, the esoteric, the occult. This Daily Grail excerpt from Lachman's 2013 book, The Caretakers of the Cosmos: Living Responsibly in an Unfinished World, features much of what I like about his writing. I am particularly impressed by his ability to weave learned and profitable speculations together from such disparate elements as H.P. Lovecraft's century-old pulp fiction, Jean-Paul Sartre's mid-century philosophical existentialism, and the pessimistic, postmodernist prognostications of contemporary "ideas man" John Gray... with a little bit of Charlie Manson thrown in, for piquancy. It begins:
According to the latest estimates, our earth formed some 4.5 billion years ago, roughly ten billion years after the Big Bang, from cosmic dust and gas left over from the sun’s formation. It is believed life appeared on earth within a billion years after our planet formed. The standard account of the ‘birth of life’ suggests that self-replicating molecules accidentally emerged from the primordial soup some 3.5 billion years ago, and through an equally accidental process, over millions of years eventually turned into myself writing these words and you reading them – with, of course, quite a few different organisms in between. As with the Big Bang, the emergence of life is another example of the ‘something from nothing for no reason’ scenario popular with many scientists today. According to the same scenario, the consciousness I am exhibiting in writing these words – humble, indeed – and which you are employing in reading them, also emerged purely through accident, as an epiphenomenon of purely physical interactions of our brains’ neurons, which are themselves the result of the purely mechanical process of evolution, the Darwinian version. (An epiphenomenon is a kind of side show to the main attraction. Steam is an epiphenomenon of boiling water; it has no existence in itself, and without the boiling water, there would be no steam. For many neuroscientists and philosophers of mind today, our consciousness is little more than a kind of steam given off by the brain.) 
To dot the i’s and cross the t’s on this, let me say it in the simplest way possible. According to the most commonly accepted scientific view, no one wanted the Big Bang to happen. No onewanted the earth to form. No one wanted life to appear on the earth. And no one wanted life to evolve into us. There is no reason for any of it. It just happened.
Keep reading at the link for a touch of cosmic optimism as Lachman develops his central theme, which is that humans - we - have a unique and indispensable responsibility to existence: that of saving it from meaninglessness.

2. Another one of my favorite current non-fiction authors is Peter Bebergal, who was recently interviewed by The Quietus about his book Seasons of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll. The article also contains an excerpt from the book about the magickal obsessions and exploits of David Bowie, about whom Bebergal declares:
I believe David Bowie is the true magician in the story of rock & roll, the artist who most perfectly realised the definition of magic, both Crowley's original ("The science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with Will") and Dion Fortune's modification ("Magick is the art of causing changes in consciousness in conformity with the Will"). The thing I wanted to emphasise in Season Of The Witch is that the occult imagination is not simply about belief or practice, it's about how the application of the occult became the very method by which rock & roll was often realised. Bowie's music and performance were a magical practice, maybe even more potent than if he sat by himself in his room and tried to conjure a demon. I think this goes to the heart with my frustration with the occult merely has a belief system. Without art, without some expression of those experiences and those interactions with the unconscious, I lose interest. It's fun to imagine Crowley at the Boleskine house trying to meet his Holy Guardian Angel, but what is left except the story? The story of David Bowie drawing the Kabbalistic tree of life in the studio when he was recording Station To Station resonates because of Station To Station the album. It's a masterpiece, and it is partly a result of what was going on in his head as he tried to manage a psyche fractured by cocaine and occultism.
In light of Bowie's recent, spectacular return to form with the incredible song/video one/two punch of Blackstar, the above interview/excerpt couldn't be more timely.

3. Theologian and cultural critic Tara Isabella Burton's extended think piece for Aeon, entitled Dark Books, asks in part whether we are sufficiently wary of the potentially malefic hold that some fiction can exert upon the reader, or conscious of the possible consequences of feasting too eagerly upon the poisonous literary fruit of an evil, or diseased, creator. From the introductory passage:
In his condemnatory tract Popular Amusements (1869), the American clergyman Jonathan Townley Crane cautioned his flock against reading novels: ‘novel-readers spend many a precious hour in dreaming out clumsy little romances of their own, in which they themselves are the beautiful ladies and the gallant gentlemen who achieve impossibilities…’ only to find themselves ‘merged in the hero of the story’, losing the sense of who they really are. 
Such a view might seem outdated now that we’re far more likely to talk about the health benefits of reading than its moral dangers. But in treating novels as the ultimate nutrition for the brain, do we risk neutralising their potency? After all, religious moralists such as Crane were not the only people to explore the dangers of novel-reading and the treacherous dynamics of story-telling: novelists and writers themselves drew attention to and critiqued the writer’s singular power over his readers. 
Many of these authors – the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard in Denmark, the Decadent novelists Julés-Amedée Barbey D’Aurevilly and Octave Mirbeau in France, or Oscar Wilde in England – were responding to a wider intellectual trend in the 19th century: the configuring of the artist as a kind of replacement Creator-deity in an age turning away from traditional authoritarian conceptions of God; a quasi-divine artist whose words, according to the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, were ‘a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM’. Writer-philosophers such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Friedrich Schlegel drew on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant to celebrate the power of the human mind to impose order and form on the chaos of the world, and envisioned the artist or storyteller figure as a kind of über-Mensch, or superman, who could wield the organising power of narrative to lend form to the void. 
But godlike power (as plenty of Romantic writers came to discover) has a dark side. And in the works of some of the greatest and most disturbing writers of the 19th century, we get a glimpse of what that dark side looks like: something at once more profound – and more diabolical – than Crane could have imagined.
Unfortunately, after posing some extremely intriguing questions, Burton succumbs to the temptation of tying her thesis to a wobbly foundation of politically correct hand-wringing over the patriarchy, rape culture, and the unspeakable evils of colonialism. Which is really too bad, because up until the final section, this had the potential to be an intriguing exploration of literary transgression. As things currently stand, it is still worth reading, but that great essay about literary transgression is still floating in the formless void, waiting to be shared with the waking, walking world. Fuck, maybe I'll take a stab at writing it myself one day.

"The Second Amendment prevents the federal government from completely abolishing official state militias - nothing more, nothing less. Nothing in the Constitution prevents the federal or state governments, or both, from outlawing the formation of storm trooper squads on U.S. soil and limiting gun ownership to members of the National Guard. Members of right-wing paramilitary militias, of course, might claim a 'natural right of revolution,' of the sort invoked by the American patriots of 1776 (and by the Confederates in 1860-61), There is no constitutional right to revolution, however. There is, of course, a provision for instances where armed bands amass weapons and attempt to overthrow the federal government. The Constitution permits the death penalty for treason."
Michael Lind skewers the NRA position on the second amendment in his book Up From Conservatism: Why the Right is Wrong for America.


  1. Speaking of articles about Bowie being timely... sheesh.

  2. Speaking of articles about Bowie being timely... sheesh.