Media

Armageddon Obsession

Years back, at DisInfoCon (I’ll try to find the link later and stick it here), Grant Morrison, comic-book writer, ritual magician and Glaswegian, mourned what he considered the western youth’s slide into what he deemed “apocalypse culture.” It’s an interesting cultural development; this is perhaps the first time in history that a vast amount of our consumable entertainment media has been based in worlds which appear to be ruined versions of our own.

Let’s take two huge examples: Post-Nuclear Apocalypse and Zombie fictions. These have been done to death of course, but they provide adequate examples of settings and scenarios which, fittingly, refuse to die. These genres stretch far back in our popular culture; A Canticle for Leibowitz, one of the earliest novels set in the scorched wastes of a world which has in recent centuries undergone severe nuclear devastation, came out back in 1960. Night of the Living Dead, obviously not the first occurrence of zombies in folklore but perhaps the first time the subject matter had beed appropriated by the western culture industry, came out in 1968.

And yet still we obsess over these tropes. The Walking Dead is more popular than ever, and the Fallout games still move millions of units effortlessly. These genres have basically gone unchanged, and I reject the notion that zombies have been ‘deconstructed’ over time; dark notions of what people are willing to become in order to survive have been present in the genre since the beginning, as has the question (repeated ad nauseam) “are WE the real monsters?!” Making the zombies capable of running hardly constitutes a revolutionising of the whole stage. Post-Nuke stuff seems satisfied with ‘yesterday’s tomorrow forever’; the way they perceived the possibilities of the future in the dawn of the Nuclear Age, rising steel statues ravaged by fire, twisted impressions burnt into the earth for those who come after to find and ponder over.

Would it be reductive to simply consider this ghoulish western obsession with the apocalypse either a bizarre manifestation of the Judaeo-Christian ‘End of Days’ eschaton or as an example of mass-unconscious self-loathing imperialist decadence? We’re still caught up in the hall-of-mirrors that is post-modernism, an era chiefly characterised no longer by its incorporation of myriad narratives but instead by a nihilism born of diaspora and self-obsession. Adorno & Horkheimer wrote that “Under monopoly all mass culture is identical” (Dialectic of Enlightenment, 1944), and whereas The Frankfurt School were principally concerned with the inherent homogeneity which characterises art produced in a capitalist society, this lends itself perfectly to the longevity of the genres in question: what better product to market to a society which finds itself in the existential crisis which accompanies imperial decline than one which offers a masochistic vision of said society catastrophically humbled by its own hubris? And one which (and here’s the kicker), depicts the viewer-projection protagonist as a survivor of the horror which surely awaits us?

Want to make an actual deconstructive zombie film? Okay. Have the film open on a shambling pack of zombies, whatever era you deem most intriguing, and follow them for 90 minutes as they wordlessly scuttle about, picking off shrieking survivors and rooting through buildings. Offer absolutely zero human element to the narrative, the backstories of any survivors glimpsed are of no significance.

That was a clumsy (spellcheck suggested ‘classy’ there) way of trying to highlight how post-apocalyptic fiction often tries to offer the audience the vicarious and deeply self-indulgent fantasy of being present for the world’s eventual devastation yet not succumbing to it. It’s the Bystander Fallacy, the delusion some people have that in a high-intensity and adrenaline-heavy situation of violence or disaster they would surely remain calm, collected and capable throughout the ordeal, logically approaching the situation rather than losing their heads and screaming about the place like the other lesser beings present, who unlike the solipsist fantasist in question are not the Protagonist of the situation.

The impression one gets from observing these highly-successful genres is that our culture is one in the throws of an anxiety; we’ve all noticed the trends and parallels, historically. We feel like we know where this is going. Fallen is Babylon, it’s the Last Days of Rome, etc. Pornhub reveals year after year that our tastes are growing more extreme and abstract, populist movements surge behind authoritarian statesmen who hark incessantly to bygone, civilised (and notably caucasian) golden ages which never truly were. It’s all coming down, maaan, and now every generation which follows gets to experience an even more crystallised terror of being all-too-conscious in the seconds after the wheels lose traction on the ice beneath and the car spins into the night, breath held in the timeless moments before the crash.

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Uncategorized

Culture

As Terence McKenna said in this interview, “Culture is not your friend.”

I know, I know. How can I have a go at culture? What’s culture ever done to hurt me? Why aren’t I thankful to culture for providing me with such a rich and varied, erm, culture?

It’s easy to paint culture as some kind of essential framework, without which all the rich bounty of Western civilisation would turn to ash and be taken by the winds. But that’s the thing: our culture has a vested interest in ensuring that your conception of ‘culture’ is a positive one. It would be considered quite the faux pas to instead characterise culture as a form of bondage to which you never consented, which serves only to exclude and to characterise the foreign as ‘Other.’

The very word itself, “culture,” finds its etymological root in the Latin ‘colere’, a term for cultivating crops. While not without a sense of romance, this origin damns culture at its very roots as being a force which staves off true creativity. The reasoning behind this, if we’re going to continue to entertain the rather tortured metaphor I’m setting up here, is that the artefacts produced by a culture will always be template and predictable, as certain fields yield certain crops, and barring some truly seismic shift in the culture’s paradigm we can foresee future artistic endeavours and trends, even if only in the abstract. Even subversion is subservient to culture: works become defined by disparity and dialectic difference. I am a work of B, because I oppose A.

What was Ginsberg’s Moloch if not an unflinching characterisation of his own culture, one which he perceived as brutal, unfeeling, mechanical and fuelled by the lives of children, symbolic of his countrymen and their futures? Given, Ginsberg was a particular person at a particular time in a particular place when he wrote Howl, but the snapshot he took of his culture and it’s inhumanity and viciousness can only stand as a damning, rather than celebratory, characterisation.

Culture means borders. Culture means language barriers. Culture means economic disparity. Culture is always defended by the aged agents of tradition, the traditional enemies of progression.

In The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception (1944), Adorno & Horkheimer accurately predict the path of Western culture. They foresaw that it would become an assembly-line of sensory spectacle, repeated ad nauseam for the sake of profit, bereft of deeper meaning and only ever questioning or critiquing the culture in as much as it can viably profit within the pre-existing space of definitions, hierarchies and power structures.

Of course, all this is to be taken with a shaker of salt. Without my culture, I would have no way to disseminate these ramblings, no language or communicative forms with which to convey them. But that which is inflexible is doomed to shatter, and the defenders of culture and its homogeneity cling to a sinking ship’s mast, a crumbling tower’s parapets, shunning a greater patchwork of identity and community for the sake of preserving the relics of an ahistorical Golden Age.

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Fiction

Detective Cordite’s Personal Notes – Neo-Luddite Violence

Sadly predictable violence at the Technofetishist Rally earlier on today. Six dead, dozens injured. All accessible drone feeds and witnesses show a crowd of Neo-Luddites protesting the rally, though miraculously for our era we haven’t yet managed to piece together who threw the first blow. The Technofetishists are howling for blood; they want these cavemen found, beaten and tossed into space. Though for the most part in breach of no laws on the books, the Technofetishists are forever seeking some kind of validation from the larger population. No one really cares about them; you’re free to seek spiritual and personal satisfaction however you choose, provided you don’t hurt any non-consenting parties. But the Technofetishist death-rate is noteworthy, with dozens of citizens getting themselves caught in complex-yet-evidentially-alluring machinery every year. On top of this, the average citizen is unable to afford the kind of clinic who stand a chance of achieving their trans-humanist ideals in a capable, sterile environment. I’ve seen enough hookers with badly-calibrated pneumatics whining from their exposed, scratched chrome hips as they lean down into a John’s window to last a lifetime.

The Neo-Luddites are always spoiling for a fight, and the Technofetishists give them all the justification their backward code of ethics requires to okay beating the decadence out of a few kids going through some complex identity issues. Their mission statement is as predictable as their methods: Fallen is Babylon, humanity is unanchored, we’ve lost sight of what makes us blah blah. Their solution to the existential crisis arising from universal technological permeation and acceleration? Smash the looms, back to the caves, etc.

The State’s been attempting to plant agents in the Neo-Luddites for a few years, but they’re a difficult group to spy on; very insular, hard to approach. You need to show real dedication to the ideal of a tech-free landscape, shunning all possible technology with vigor and instead attending to the practice of… I don’t know, lifting things up and rubbing sticks together? It isn’t difficult to have an agent pretend they hate technology. The difficulty stems from preventing them from buying into it. Once you’ve managed to get into the trials of admittance, you’re cut off. They last for weeks, and you’re to live with other prospective Luddites. Everyone is watching everyone; there’s no chance to smuggle technology in or communicate with your controllers. It’s the perfect environment for weeding out plants. And once you’ve got your mole identified you get to choose; neutralise, or convert?

Of the eight attempts I know of to plant a G-Man in the Neo-Luddites, three are presumed dead and four are true believers now. The only escapee still gets jumpy around Old World tools, like hammers and saws.

The only sense of advantage we have over the Neo-Luddites is from what we perceive to be their hypocrisy; there’s no way that a group like that could be so well-maintained, organised and inscrutable without some kind of technological intelligence infrastructure. At times in the past when we’ve attended to the scene of a street brawl between the Luddites and some other gang or ‘movement’, it’s been standard procedure to let off an EMP charge or two upon arrival. Scrambles the weapons of whoever’s fighting, gives us an immediate advantage in a combative situation. Doesn’t really bother the Luddites though, as they’re fighting with bats, knives and other lethal implements that don’t require circuitry. We do, however, often find downed surveillance drones in the aftermath. All serials removed and memory flashed upon signal disruption.

I reckon the Neo-Luddites aren’t who they think they are. No one’s got any idea about the leadership structure of the group, save a few surprising influential citizens who’ve left a financing paper trail back to them. It wouldn’t be difficult to set up a kind of militia like this while remaining in the shadows above, no one but the highest echelons of command aware of your existence and leadership. Wouldn’t even need to believe in the ethos; that’s just a useful tool to galvanise the troops and ensure there’s no incriminating hard-drives, because they aren’t allowed to use them.

But then they say I’m paranoid.

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Fiction

Daily Post – Pungent

Though destined to be a grand and celebrated creative, he instead strayed down the meandering, dark path of writing for “chucks”. Trained to craft sonnets, Petrarchan and Shakespearean, he instead devoted his time to the dirty limerick. Though instructed and mentored in the delicate balance of the sublime and the sombre, he spent endless nights devising complex, polysyllabic nicknames for his peers.

He refused to correct his spoonerisms, and saw brilliance only in the subversion of audience expectation.

Though his character became wretched, bilious and putrid, he began to carry himself in higher esteem than ever before. In giving up in his crusade to brew an alembic full of new, alchemically-pure literature he had found a great release. One can grow quite fat on low hanging fruit, and he found it difficult to slake his thirst once he had first tasted the syrup-sweet nectar of the easily won chuckle. Who wants to spend a life breaking the back of their brain in the pursuit of a ‘new’ convention, fully aware that credit will likely not be delivered in this life? Better to rule on the funny pages than to serve in the academy.

His peers sneered; who was he to think so highly of himself? They continued to fight the good fight, to try and prove Eliot wrong and discover new land amidst a well-sailed sea. But our artist cared nothing for their blessing, which only served to increase their disdain.

He would become the black sheep on campus, a carnivalesque jester amidst the prim court of ‘the artists’. He would show them for the pretentious louts they really were. He would become a pen of dull literary vengeance, shattering their swords of reason, introspection and idealism. He would sink further and further into the filth of the triple-entendre, the spoonerism, the mispronounced and the willfully-dense. He would reek of self-conscious mockery and spoil the pomp banquets of Tomorrow’s Writers. He would deliver their punishment; a whole punnetfull. He would hold his head high, the stink of simplicity emanating from his very pores, a gentlemen of unflinching, well-spoken and confident satire.

He would become the Pun-Gent.

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Fiction

Collections

My name is Luke. I’m 240 years old, same as America. My work keeps me young. I’m a procurement agent for certain forces and parties who find it difficult to operate openly.

What my bosses want are souls, or at least the nourishing parts of them. Being so involved with their bartering, extraction and transportation puts me in the position of receiving a ‘contact high’, as it were, and this marginal osmosis effect is what has kept me so vital all these years.

My line of work has me rubbing shoulders with some real pieces of shit. I’ve met mass murdering Satanist warlords who trembled when they saw me, afraid they’d accidentally summoned me for an exchange. Soul trafficking is a racket for only the least scrupulous out there. The majority of my mortal clients are psychopaths with ESP who fancy pulling a Faust one. And like the eponymous soul-trader of that fable, they all think they’ll somehow outsmart me in the end.

Take right now, for instance. I am stood outside the estate of an up until now cooperative trader. Sold his soul 10 years back for 3 years of unbridled (if trite and unimaginative) excess, and has been delaying final payment with the souls of others, mostly teenage runaways. But as we keep reminding him, the Pact was for his soul and it’s ours by right. He hasn’t provided us with any alternative payments this year, so his account has moved into ‘collections.’

It’s 2am in Hollywood and it’s raining. I expected to manifest in his bedroom but I’m on the street, which means he’s laid down some protective glyphs inside. Irritating. I’m still mortal, I simply work in a field which allows me certain supernatural benefits. When you cut me, I bleed. And when I get rained on, I’m wet, so I’m already in a bad mood tonight. I press on his buzzer (no need to leap straight into the mysticism) and see, in the corner of my mind, a trembling hand pushing a plant pot off a balcony and into the wet night. I watch it fall towards me and step aside, seeing terracotta shatter into a hundred earthen, soaked fragments. I feel a gaze from the camera above me and stare blankly into it.

Just once, I’d like someone to conduct themselves with a little dignity during a collection. It’s always a snivelling, pleading farce and always leaves me with a sour taste.

I feel the space, invisible sensory tendrils creeping up to the house. I can’t sense beyond the glyphs on the threshold, but I can feel them out like brail markings.

Hm… camphor and silver… plush… ah, should have guessed: Thelema, the Taekwondo of esoteric systems. I close my eyes and make a quick trip to the Abyss. Well, one of them. Moments after ‘arriving’ I feel Choronzon bristle in the darkness. I sense acquiescence at once and depart. Me and It have something of an understanding; the Powers I represent are worth more bother than the Lurker in the Abyss can really handle, so he grants me immunity as and when I need it.

I’m back in my body and I feel something give behind the door. I glance at the lock and it clicks open. I phase forward-

-and I’m in the house, glyphs and sigils just smouldering scorch marks on the hardwood floor now. I can feel the whole building now.

Fear. Fear hangs in these halls like the reek of cheap incense. I can work with fear. I consider just appearing next to him in his wardrobe but I’m still wet and feeling pretty raw about it, so I walk, slow and heavy, and with every step the stench of panic rises and almost chokes me. Panic smells like wet aluminium on a hot day, if you’re interested.

——

As I walk up the stairs to the first landing, I can see him through the walls. I am able to perceive several spectrums unavailable to the unaltered human eye. UVA, UVB, thermal, auras, even a bit of past and future, though that’s mostly a composite of everything available and a bit of guesstimation. He’s still in his walk-in wardrobe, trembling behind several fur coats. Urine is hot on his legs. How to explain… the way it looks to me is as if this entire house and everything in it suddenly became made of purple glass. He’s bright as day, a white human shape with a pink outline, flaring dirty yellow sometimes when his fear rises. It looks as though I could walk straight to him, but I can just about make out the surfaces around me. Walls and doors stand in my way, though at this point the sigils laid down are entirely useless for preventing my approach. If Choronzon obeyed any kind of ethical structure it’d most certainly have breached it here; no doubt this poor bastard paid dearly for those ‘protections’. If he was given protection on the weight of his word alone, I’ll probably drop him off in the Abyss when I leave. I don’t owe Choronzon anything, but I feel a bit bad about just swooping in on it’s action and leaving it high and dry. Even soulless husks can provide the Lurker with a little entertainment, and he’s never been one to forget a courtesy.

I’m on the landing, and a dog is staring at me from the other end of the hallway. Doberman; lean, aggressive, ears clipped. That really annoys me, when people mess with their pets to make them look better. The dog is staring me down, and though his stance, stare, teeth and tail are all blaring “DANGER, DANGER, BACK OFF” signals at me, there’s an unmistakable lilac mist coming off the animal. The dog can smell that I’m not… right. I phase forward and am suddenly in front of the dog. It darts it’s head up to look at me, but doesn’t react with surprise. She sussed I wasn’t human soon as she saw me.

I look deep into this dog and I see abuse, I see fear and hunger. I see loud noises, attack training in backyards with car parts strewn about. I see a dog who has never known the love of her owner, and as such cannot conceive of it. I lend a hand; I gently blow a small parcel of light towards the dog’s face. It snuffs the air above it, trying to figure out if it’s some kind of treat, when the light suddenly darts into the dog’s forehead. There’s a moment of confusion, and then the parcel splits open inside and the emotional understanding of affection and loyalty are suddenly clear as day to the animal. Without another thought, it pads past me, down the stairs and out the door. It knows now; there’s nothing for it here.

I’m outside the bedroom now, and I can see that our man must have not had total faith in his glyphs; there’s an elaborate system of pulleys and ropes, all of which in the service of ensuring that an old double-barrelled shotgun on the dresser will fire if the door opens. I’m bored now. In an instant I’m in the room, and it’s nice. Not as tacky as I was expecting, though there is a… Hellenic vibe, which I always find unsettling. Maybe one day it won’t mean what I’ve come to expect, but I’m still waiting.

I sit on the bed and think about how I should proceed. In a moment it comes to me; I close my eyes and concentrate. Inside the wardrobe the trader has stilled. He hasn’t heard anything in a while, but isn’t feeling brave enough to venture out. Suddenly, he hears a violent growl, two barks, the sound of claws skittering across hardwood and a harsh scream, muffled out by the growling and sound of tearing. There’s a sudden burst of footsteps towards the bedroom, claws clacking behind it, and then the trap gun bursts into brief, volatile life, both barrels. Then nothing, not a sound. After five whole minutes, the trader stands up, shoes wet with urine, and pokes his head around the doorway.

The guy from outside is dead, a steaming chest cavity black with gunpowder and ruin. Behind him the mutt, head entirely pulverised by the other barrel. Oh well.

For a brief, blissful moment relief floods him. He’s still free as a bird baby.

He smirks as he walks towards the corpse, then freezes. The corpse is gone. It didn’t fade away or disintegrate; it just isn’t there anymore. What’s more, there’s no dog, the door’s closed and it doesn’t smell of gunpowder anymore. He turns in confusion and sees me on the bed.

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Fiction

Exile Hearing. Accused: Zephir, Brother Mechanist

-We are here today to bring sentence upon the accused. Zephir, step forth.
*Zephir approaches elders*
-You stand accused of gross obscenity, clear violation of our codes and bringing dishonour upon this Order of Mechanists. In light of the evidence and witness testimony, we have no choice but to find you guilty. Do you have any defense?
“My only crime is one of vision. The vision to see the gossamer ethics of this order for what they are. The vision to have so arrogantly become the most skilled mechanist in these halls, and I dare any to say otherwise. The vision-”
-Enough of this!
“THE VISION, I say, to recognise that the future is as much steel and glass as it is flesh and spirit. My only regret is that I did not begin this Great Work sooner.”
-Have you NO shame? The monstrosities uncovered in your private lab… the Orc!
“I felt Zhugarm held tremendous promise. Orc healing is astonishingly swift. I felt that if I could have his flesh heal OVER steel plate-”
-And the Elf, Elohzhar was it?
“Elves have naturally brilliant sight. I thought it could only be improved with surgical, suborbital installation of telescopic lenses-”
-And this is to say nothing of Garet, our watchman!
“Garet complained often of his bodily functions impeding his duties. A likeminded soul. I simply attempted to streamline-”
-You connected his rear end to his mouth!
“The valve leads to greater efficiency-”
-All of the aformentioned are DEAD!
“And in death they have bequeathed us with the greatest gifts of all: knowledge and experience. When subdermal armours are commonplace, all shall remember and give thanks to Zhugarm for his sacrifice.”
-We have heard enough. In light of these crimes, and your total lack of remorse, we are left with no choice but to exile you from this order.
“Fine. I’ve learned everything I can here anyway.”
-We cannot, of course, inflict your sickness upon the world. Yet we are also unable to take back that which you have learned.
“Actually, I’m working on a project by which the brain-”
-ENOUGH. Instead, we shall remove the means by which you would maim the world. Guards, remove his hands.
*Zephir shows no reaction as two guards seize his arms and move to pull his hands into view*
-What’s…what
*Zephir thrusts forth two brass, clockwork fists where once his hands had been skin and bone*
“Behold the new flesh!”
-Zephir… what have you done to yourself?
*Zephir opens one hand and a small ball falls to the ground, shattering and filling the room with blinding light. When the light fades, Zephir is gone*

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Media

XV – The Devil

Note: what follows is rough notes from a project between me and Neuchowski.

devil

Ave Satanis. The Devil is a much misunderstood card, much like Death. Crowley’s deck goes out of its way to try and distance itself from the traditional depiction of Lucifer from the Christian cosmology and instead reverts to an older, pagan Horned God, while still holding on to some of the darkness inherent in the card.

One thing you could never really accuse The Devil of the Tarot of is ‘high-mindedness’. The Devil is concerned with Earthly matters. In other decks The Devil may have human slaves chained to him like bleak parodies of The Lovers. In some decks there isn’t even a personification, The Devil being depicted as a huge chest of gold that humans are trying and failing to carry.

In the Thoth, The Devil is a three-eyed goat, mantled with magnificent horns which are crowned with a wreath of flowers, another nod to the pagan Horned Gods. If The Devil is often used to depict ugly lust, Crowley’s Devil subverts this depiction by instead having the Devil represent fertility. The goat stands before what can only be seen as a giant phallus, the tip of which reaches into opaque clouds. White humanoid figures dance (or writhe…) within the testes, all seeming to try and leap upwards, unsuccessfully. Meanwhile, dark, murky webs surround the card.

In this card Crowley is possibly making a rather incendiary statement, at least for the Victorian era in which this would have been initially produced: the idea that sex, lust and the continuation of life are interlinked and mutual. Fear of sex and all things venereal was a definite trope within British Victorian society, and the necessity for sexual coupling in the establishment of a family was an uncomfortable topic. People wanted a good marriage, a family and a respectable image, however in order to procure this they’d have to engage in some sweaty, breathy, grunting wet beastial fucking.

Crowley is mocking the prissiness of his era, reminding everyone that his time’s fear of sex, cum and blood was a modern superstition, one laid upon them by a Judeo-Christian perspective, and one not respected or even considered in an Older time, when there was at least some degree of honesty about the human experience. This is why Crowley utilises pre-Christian imagery for this card, to remind us that the moral trembling of his era was by no means Right or Logical.

Steven King was asked about the character Randal Flagg, who appears in many of his books as a sort of recurring Anti-Christ figure, and whether the reader is supposed to consider Flagg a Satanic character. King, in an answer which surprised many, considering his Born-Again status, replied that he didn’t believe so, as “The Devil probably has a sense of humour.”

Notice the goat’s smirk. Crowley’s Devil mocks the social mores of his generation, the empty puritanism which serves only to increase misery, and the kind of Faith that causes people to disregard this precious little time on Earth in favour of some promised ‘afterlife’. You’re taking things too seriously, and The Devil thinks it’s hilarious. Fuck, cum and be merry, because what the hell else are you going to do?

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