The Darkness of God

I came across the view of God as described by Pseudo-Dionysius (AKA Dionysios or Denys the Areopagite).  It reminded me of Thomas S. Hibbs use of Blaise Pascal’s theology to gain a deeper understanding of Noir.  Hibbs focuses on the idea of God as hidden.  This also connects to various other writers I enjoy who comment on Noir especially in terms of Gnosticism (to be specific Victoria Nelson and Eric G. Wilson).  Along with all of this is the ancient connection of the divine with fear and terror, the experience of God as an overwhelming force such as what Job faced.

However, trying to write in detail about all of that in a single post would be more effort than motivation and time at present allows.  So, I’ll just share the following passage from Denys Turner’s book The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism (pp. 24-25).

Denys is quite emphatic about this and he repeats the warning on several occasions, so fraught with dangers did he consider a limited theological vocabulary to be.  In a pioous vocabulary of unshocking, ‘appropriate’ names, lies the danger of the theologian’s being all the more tempted to suppose that our language about God has succeeded in capturing the divine reality in some ultimately adequate way.  Tactically preferable is the multiplicity of vulgar images which, because they lack any plausibility as comprehensive or appropriate names, paradoxically have a more uplifting efficacy: ‘Indeed the sheer crassness of the signs is a goad so that even the materially inclined cannot accept that it could be permitted or true that the celestial and divine sights could be conveyed by such shameful things’.

There is good practical sense in this.  A ‘golden and gleaing’ God is too like what we might choose to praise; a God ‘enraged’, ‘cursing’ and ‘drunk and hungover’ might have greater power to shock us into a sense of divine transcendence by magnitude of the metaphorical deficiency.

Punishment/Reward, Good/Evil, Victim/Victimizer

I was talking to a friend last night and we had a very long discussion that covered many subjects: suffering, mental health, meritocracy, plutocracy, movies, noir, gnosticism… and whatever else.  One of the first things he brought up was a book he read recently.  The book is Alfie Kohn‘s Punished by Rewards  which, as I understand from my friend’s explanation, is about the problems of the reward/punishment methodology of behaviorism.  It sounded interesting in particular as the author supposedly was analyzing the scientifc research and found it didn’t support behaviorism’s effectiveness.  I’ll have to look into this further as I don’t understand enough at present to come to a conclusion.  Instead, I’ll share this short video of Alfie Kohn speaking about the failure of punishment.

My point for blogging about it other than it being interesting is that I came across some similar ideas from a field other than psychology.  I was perusing a blog simply titled Theologies which is written by someone going by the name Marika.  I read the post Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Christian ethics.  I’ve come across Bonhoeffer’s name many times over the years, but have never read any of his books.  Anyways, below is some of Marika’s post:

The first rule of Christian ethics, according to Bonhoeffer, is that there is no such thing as Christian ethics. The knowledge of good and evil is a result of the fall, and the return to God means abandoning all our knowledge of good and evil. […]  The knowledge of good and evil means that we start to see ourselves not in terms of our relationship to God, but in terms of our capacity for good and evil. […]  Instead of trusting God to show us what sort of people we ought to be, we set ourselves up as our own judges.  Shame is the sign of this disconnection from God: it is our recognition that we are estranged from our origin. 
 Alfie Kohn says that punishment merely focuses the mind on the punisment itself rather than what the punishment is supposed to be about.  The punished person looks for ways of not getting caught in the future and they obsess over a mentality of blame and retribution.  The punished person ultimately wants to become the punisher…. when I’m older, thinks the child… which reminds me of Derrick Jensen’s analysis of how most victimizers were once victims.  Bonhoeffer would, however, argue that the only way out of this vicious cycle is to turn to God.
 
To throw in Gnosticism for good measure, Marcion would say the punishment model should be left in the Jewish scriptures and not forced onto Christian theology.  Jesus didn’t preach punishment and was definitely against the hierarchical relationship between the person punishing and the person being punished.  Interestingly, Bonhoeffer puts his criticism in the context of knowing God which is precisely what the Gnostics were all about.

Book Review: The Secret Life of Puppets by Victoria Nelson

This book is one of the best I’ve ever read. My copy is heavily underlined and well-thumbed. There are few authors that connect the topics she does in the way she does it, and there are even fewer who do so with such insight. It’s a hard book to describe as it includes much: puppets and humanity, reality and imagination, philosophy and religion, film and fiction, high and low culture. It’s a fairly large book at around 300 pages of text and also there are useful notes in the back. Even though her ideas may be above the head of the average person, her writing style is easy to follow. If you’re a somewhat curious and minimally intelligent person, then what you’ll probaby enjoy about this book is learning new ideas and discovering new authors. I’m very well read and I came across a number of things I’d never heard of.

Two topics Victoria Nelson covers that are of particular interest to me are Gnosticism and Noir. If you like these topics, then another book you’d like is Eric G. Wilson’s The Melancholy Android: On the Psychology of Sacred Machines and Secret Cinema: Gnostic Vision in Film. Wilson is directly influenced by Nelson. There aren’t many books that look at the religious aspects of Noir, but another one is Thomas S. Hibbs Arts of Darkness: American Noir and the Quest for Redemption. Somewhat oddly, a major connection for these authors is that they all discuss Philip K. Dick who is a favorite author of mine. Dick was mainly a fiction writer, but also wrote non-fiction about what it is to be human in terms of philosophy, religion, and science (in particular the subjects of Gnosticism and androids). If you read Philip K. Dick’s non-fiction, it will give you a richer perspective on the meeting of high and low culture (which is an emphasis of Nelson and Wilson)and on the dark quest for redemption (which all of these authors touch upon). Two Philip K. Dick books I’d recommend are The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings and In Pursuit of Valis: Selections from the Exegesis. If you want a clear overview of Philip K. Dick’s philsophical and religion thoughts, then you should read Pink Beams of Light from the God in the Gutter: The Science-Fictional Religion of Philip K. Dickby Gabriel McKee.

Some of Nelson’s best insights revolve around the notions of imagination and reality, sanity and insanity (which are typical Philip K. Dick topics in both his fiction and non-fiction). This is where she discusses various genre writers (for example, Poe, Lovecraft, Schultz and Kafka) and where she explores the connection between psychology, spirituality and creativity. If you’re intellectually fascinated by imagination and creativity, then there are some truly awesome books out there that would give even greater context to the already large context that Victoria Nelson provides. I’d guess that much of the groundwork for Nelson’s thinking comes from the Jungian tradition of thinkers and she references Carl Jung a number of times (but she also discuses Freud). If you’re interested in further reading about the imagination, then check out these other books: Dream & the Underworld by James Hillman, Imagination Is Reality: Western Nirvana in Jung, Hillman, Barfield, and Cassirer by Roberts Avens, Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld by Patrick Harpur, and The Trickster and the Paranormal by George P. Hansen.

Besides my mentioning a number of related books, I’d consider The Secret Life of Puppets to be very unique. There are many books out there about these kinds of topics, but she brings it together in a very compelling way. These ideas easily could’ve become lost in abstract intellectuality if handled by a lesser writer.

Arsen Darnay’s Borderzone Blog

I just discovered a new blog.  It’s titled Borderzone and is written by Arsen Darnay.  From his ‘About’ page:

“Borderzone may be of interest to those whose inner sense suggests a reality open at both ends—in the heights and in the depths: angels above and agents below the enzymes, as it were. The posts are exploratory and philosophical; they point to horizons not typically reached by ships or planes.”

I wrote some responses to his posts that I’ll share below.

Henry Corbin

I only know of Henry Corbin’s ideas indirectly through the book Imagination is Reality by Roberts Avens. Have you read it? I’ve also come across these ideas in my reading of paranormal and ufo literature. Patrick Harpur’s Daimonic Reality is a good analysis of all of this.

I didn’t know that Corbin wrote about Swedenborg. I’ve never read Swedenborg either, but I’ve read that his ideas influenced New Thought Christianity which I was raised in.

I found it interesting your mention of Paracelsus. I hadn’t heard of his view that visionary experience came from the heart. I like that idea.

The Random Element in Borderline Phenomena

Well, I’m personally a fan of “useless” knowledge. To the degree that knowledge is useful it will be biased towards some specific agenda. Useful knowledge isn’t problematic per se, but if the agenda becomes too overt it can be a major limitation for further scientific research and discovery. Anyways, the Taoists warned against the dangers of usefulness and I think it’s good advice.

As for the issue of science and the paranormal, there are two authors that I’d recommend. Both have worked in the field of science and so have knowledge of it from the inside.

George P. Hansen’s The Trickster and the Paranormal covers a lot of territory. Hansen worked as a parapsychology researcher and so is very familiar with the flaws and limitations of the field (and of science in general).

Jacque Vallee has done lots of scientific work with astronomy and computers, but he has become one of the biggest names in ufo research. He became involved in the latter field because he personally witnessed an astronomer destroy data of a ufo. He is specifically known for proposing the similarity between ufo experiences and religious experiences.

Have you heard of either of them? If so, what do you think of their ideas?

The Song of the Pearl – Part II

This is something that interests me immensely. I’ve been reading Gnostic texts recently. The Song of the Pearl is one of my favorites partly for the dream-like imagery.

I think it’s important your noting Cindarella and Snow White. I mentioned Jacques Vallee in another post of yours. He wrote about the similarity between ufo experiences and fairy/folk-tales. One element is the experience of unconsciousness, forgetting and lost time. Reports of interactions with other paranormal beings (such as fairies) also involve this element. So, there is a continuity between religious experiences in the past and ufo experiences now. It’s just a matter of cultural interpretation.

I’m not sure exactly how all of that fits into the Gnostic viewpoint, but it seems significant. I’m sure Gnostics would’ve taken seriously the actual paranormal experiences people had. Some people just see their weird myths as complex theologizing, but I think that misses the original intent of gnosis itself.

Your last point makes me wonder about one possible connection. The idea of children who end up as queens and kings reminds me of another element of ufo experiences. The “aliens” (or whatever they are) often tell people that they are an elect or special somehow, that they will be saved or will help save the world. These paranormal beings are always proclaiming grand messages and singling out people to receive them.

What is the purpose? Heck if I know. The messages usually don’t have any practical value and the predictions often don’t come true.

For instance, paranormal beings (and the prophets or alien abductees who listen to them) have been predicting the end of the world for quite a while now. Whether its the early Christians waiting for the Second Coming or ufo believers waiting on a hill, it’s all the same.

Maybe the problem is that such people took the message literally instead of allegorically/spiritually as the Gnostics preferred.

Just Some Related Ideas and Writers

I tend to think in terms of connections, but when writing about any particular subject I’ll only be emphasizing certain connections.  Still, all the other connections are at the background of what I’m trying to convey.  A minor frustration is all of this background can’t easily be conveyed and so what gets communicated is simply an uprooted plant.  So, this post will be my humble attempt to elucidate this web of ideas, subjects, traditions, and writers.  But of equal importance I wish to demonstrate that these connections exist outside of my mind in the actual world… meaning in other people’s minds as well.

 

The Beginning: Historical Context

A) Ancient World: Religion and Philosophy

So as to be orderly in my presentation, let me start at the beginning… not the beginning of my own thinking but rather the beginning of the Western tradition.  I’ve already written about much of this in prior posts (for example: Graeco-Roman Tradition, Development of Christian Mysticism, and Mani’s Influence).  My thinking about this subject is informed by authors such as Acharya S (aka D.M. Murdock), Robert M. Price, Earl Doherty, Tom Harpur, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy; and I would also add Karen Armstrong and Richard Tarnas

Basically, during the Axial Age, Greek and Egyptian thought formed Hellenism which was later incorporated into and formalized by Roman culture.  At around this time and before, Jews were being influenced by Hellenism and the culmination of this was the Alexandrian Jewish community.  Jews had in the past been influenced by many cultures, borrowing wholesale at times some of their myths and theologies (including maybe Monotheism which was an idea both in the Egyptian and Greek traditions).  Mixed in with all of these were Persian influences such as Zoroastrianism.  Out of this, Christianity arose precisely with the arising of Rome.  Romans brought the synthesizing of Hellenism to a new level and they were constantly seeking a universal religion to unite the empire, such as Serapis worship, Pax Romana, and Romanized Christianity… of course these Roman universal religions themselves became mixed over the early centuries of the common era. 

Anyways, Gnosticism was either the origin of Christianity or else one of the earliest influences on Christianity.  Gnosticism was connected with the traditions of NeoPlatonism and Hermeticism.  An interesting aspect of Gnosticism is that it’s adherents sometimes used scientific knowledge to explain some of it’s theology.  This merging of the spiritual and the scientific would be carried on in various traditions.  Besides Gnosticism and Hermeticism, the offspring traditions Cabala and Alchemy speculated to great degrees about the physical world.  This line of thought seems to have been particularly focused in Germany.  The German mystics helped many of these ideas to survive.  These mystics emphasized the sympathy between the microcosm and the macrocosm and also the merging between the subjective and the objective.  The Reformationists were influenced by all of this even though they focused less on the mystical.  Paracelsus lived during the Reformation and was influenced by both the mystic tradition and the Reformation (which he didn’t identify with).  Most directly, he initially was more interested in science and medicine.  This led to Paracelsus’ theorizing about Gnostic ideas such as planetary influences (although he denied Gnosticism).  Paracelsus also believed in a universal healing energy and he is also credited for the first mention of the unconscious.

B) Post-Reformation: Early Development of Modern Traditions

This was also the time of the Renaissance and science was just beginning to come into its own, but science wouldn’t be fully formed until the Enlightenment.  During this latter period, Franz Mesmer developed a theory and methodology along the lines of Paracelsus’ writings.  Paracelsus’ ideas did become more popular a couple of centuries after his death, but I don’t know if his ideas had a direct influence on Mesmer.  Still, they’re a part of the same general philosophical lineage.  Mesmer did speculate about planetary influences, but he is most famous for his theory about animal magnetism which was a supposed healing energy.  This was the origin of what later would be called hypnotism which was much later developed, partially through the example of the Freudian Erik Erikson, into the methodology of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). 

Hypnotism was introduced into popular culture through writers such as Edgar Allan Poe.  Mesmerism was an early origin to spiritualism.  As such, it isn’t surprising that Poe in one of his stories had a character use hypnotism as a way of keeping a corpse alive.  Another concept that came from Mesmerism was the double which also was incorporated into the Horror genre, notably in the writings of E.T.A. Hoffman

Hypnotism as a psycho-therapeutic technique had been taken up by a number of people during and after Mesmer’s life.  Many decades later, Freud would learn hypnotism.  The ideas of sexual repression and hysteria were a part of the tradition of Mesmer’s methodology and these would be taken up by Freud.  Also, Freud had an interest in the unconscious which would seem to also to have been related to these kinds of ideas.  One of Freud’s followers was Wilhelm Reich who had a particular interest in the area of sexuality and healing energies.  He proposed the notion of Orgone energy which is reminiscent of both the ideas of Mesmer and Paracelsus.  Orgone is no longer reputable, but like Mesmer it has become a part of popular culture.  William S. Burroughs was a believer in Orgone energy (and spirituality in general as he considered himself a Manichean and was a Scientologist for a time).  Jack Kerouac mentioned Burroughs’ Orgone accumulator in one of his books and supposedly Grant Morrison (by way of Burroughs?) imagined Orgone energy as being real in one of his fictional worlds.

Mesmer‘s beliefs about healing energy accessible to all was also a major influence (via Phineas Quimby) on New Thought Christianity.  This Christian movement was also influenced by Swedenborg and more importantly by the very ancient ideas of Unitarianism and Universalism.  New Thought was a part of a larger social movement of people seeking a new form of spirituality after the Enlightenment had challenged so many traditional religious certainties and the Industrial Age was generally destabilizing culture.  Another set of ideas that probably was influential on New Thought would be that of Romanticism and Transcendentalism.  The latter in particular was a part of the same social milieu in the US at that time.  Specific organizations that appeared during this period were Unity church, Christian Science, Mormonism and the Theosophical Society.  Also, groups like the Quakers and Shakers became popular in the U.S. later in the 19th century partly in response to the social destabilization of the Civil War.  (By the way, New Thought Christianity has somewhat covertly made a resurgence with it’s incorporation into the mainstream through such things as The Secret and even more interestingly through Evangelical Christianity.  Positive thinking or prosperity thinking is known by Evangelicals as abundance theology or prosperity gospel.)

This collective search for the spiritual during the 19th century (and into the early 20th century) was being fueled by many things including the translation and publishing of many ancient texts (both Western and Eastern).  In biblical studies, some scholars picked up the earlier Enlightenment criticisms of Christianity (despite the fear of punishment by the church still being at the time very real in some places).  With many new texts available, comparative mythology caused quite a stir.  One major force in this scholarship was the publications coming out of the Theosophical Society, in particular those of G.R.S. Mead.  This school of thought mostly died out in biblical studies, but it was kept alive by comparative mythologists and psychologists.  It has, however, been revived in recent decades by a small growing sector of biblical scholars and has been made popular (if not exactly respectable) by the film Zeitgeist.

 

Freud, Jung and Others

Optimism and Pessimism, Religion and Horror

A major figure who was influenced by all of this was Carl Jung (who was the most significant force behind the Nag Hammadi texts getting translated and published).  Even though he was the most favored student of Freud, Jung had developed much of his own thinking prior to their meeting.  They both had great impact on each other, but of course (like many of Freud’s students such as Reich and Adler) Jung left Freud.  The Freudian and Jungian schools are an interesting contrast.  This partly a difference of how they related to the world in general which seems to symbolized by how they related to patients.  Freud had patients face away from him, but Jung (and Reich) chose to have their patients face them. 

Also, I can look at a book’s table of contents and make a good guess about whether the author will likely quote Freud or Jung.  Books that quote Freud tend to be about sexuality, gender, politics, power, the underprivileged, postmodernism, and textual criticism.  Books that quote Jung often involve the topics of spirituality, religion, mythology, ancient traditions, philosophy and the supernatural.  There is much crossover between the two and so it isn’t unusual to find both names in the same book, but still books that extensively quote Jung are more likely to mention Freud as well rather than the other way around.  Both Jung and Freud have influenced artists and fiction writers.  Herman Hesse, for instance, knew Jung and used his ideas in some of his fiction.  Freud’s obsession with sexuality, of course, was an interest to many creative types.  Burroughs‘ view on sexuality seems fairly Freudian.  Another angle is that Freud was less optimistic about human nature.  I was reading how Peter Wessel Zapffe’s Pessimistic philosophy is indebted to Freud and Zapffe is a major source of the horror writer Thomas Ligotti‘s view on life.  Philip K. Dick, on the other hand, was heavily influenced by Jung and PKD has relatively more of a hopeful bent (however, PKD also had a very dark side and was friends with darker fiction writers such as Harlan Ellison).  This distinction between a tendency towards pessimism versus optimism, I would add, appears related to the fact that Freud was very critical of religion and Jung maintained respect for religion his whole life (or at least the ideas and stories of religion if not the institution itself).

One further aspect is Jung‘s development of personality typology which came about by his trying to understand the differences between Adler and Freud and his trying to understand the reasons for his conflict with Freud.  Typology was particularly put into the context of a very optimistic philosophy with the MBTI which is all about understanding others and improving oneself.  Even though typology became a tool of corporate America, it has its roots in the ideas of centuries of philosophers such as Nietzsche’s Dionysian and Apollonian.  Typology is the closest that Jung’s ideas have come to academic respectability.  (However, his theory on archetypes is slowly gaining respectability simply by the force of its wide influence, and its important to note that there was always a connection between Jung’s thinking about typology and archetypes.)  With the systematization in MBTI, Jung’s typology has been scientifically researched and correlated with other research on personality theories.  For my purposes, I’ll point out that his typology probably influenced some of Hesse‘s thinking and I know that Philip K. Dick was familiar with it, but typology overall hasn’t been a favorite topic of most philosophical and spiritual thinkers.  Even so, the creation of distinct categories of people is a very old notion (in the West and in other cultures).  For a relevant example, certain Gnostics (e.g., Valentinians) divided people into three categories, but later Christians seem to have preferred the simpler categorization of damned versus saved.  In secular writing, George P. Hansen is a rare thinker who considers types (Ernest Hartmann‘s boundary types which are correlated to MBTI) in terms of paranormal experience and cultural analysis, but I don’t know if he is familiar with Jung’s typology although he does reference Jung a fair amount.  A more amusing example is William S. Burroughs‘ dividing the world up into the Johnson Family and the Shits.

Like Freud, Jung had a strong interest in the unconscious which (along with his many other interests) definitely puts him in the tradition of Paracelsus and Mesmer.  It would almost be easier to list what Jung didn’t study rather than what he did.  He certainly was interested in the same types of subjects that are now included in the New Age movement (which isn’t surprising as Jungian ideas are a major interest of many New Agers).  Specific to my purposes here, Jung often quoted G.R.S. Mead and was also immensely curious about spiritualism.  Jung’s influence is immense, despite his fame being slightly overshadowed by Freud. 

An aspect not often considered is Jung‘s influence on Christianity (which I assume was largely his interest in Mead’s writing).  His family was very much entrenched within Christianity and so Jung was obsessed with it his whole life.  The book he considered his most personal was written about Christianity (i.e., Answer to Job).  Jung had a fruitful relationship with Father White who himself was a writer.  Jung’s ideas became incorporated into Father White’s writings about Catholicism.  Despite Jung not being Catholic or even Christian, his ideas gave a certain respectability to the Catholic emphasis on symbolism and imagery, but it’s hard to estimate Jung’s influence on Catholic thinking.  The most direct influence in this regard would be on the InklingsC.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien who were Christians also felt some kinship with Jung’s ideas, but of course they disagreed with Jung’s putting Christianity on the same level as Pagan myths (as such, his theory was simply a myth explaining other myths rather than God’s truth).  Through Jung and Lewis, theology became more of a topic of popular culture.  Also, Lewis helped bridge the separation between the Pagan imagination of Romanticism and Christian doctrine which was furthermore a bridge between theological ideas and fiction.  This bridging obviously influenced later writers such as Philip K. Dick who combined fiction and theology.  The popularizing of Christianity had a corroding effect on orthodoxy (which Tolkien feared), but also it led to a great fertility of thinking where Christianity and popular culture mixed.  I’m sure many Christians have discovered Jung through the Inklings, but  I suspect, though, that Jung probably has had the most influence on Christians who are counselors (and therefore on the people they counsel).  Related to counseling, Jung was a direct inspiration for the development of Alcoholics Anonymous which was originally Christian (also, A.A. is one of the first self-help groups which as a way of organizing people would later became a focus of various New Agers, Christian and otherwise).

I also wonder what connections there might be between Jung’s interest in Catholicism and the supernatural and the interest in the same by Horror writers and movie directors.  Also, as there are Catholics interested in Jung and Catholics interested in horror and ghost stories, I wonder how many Catholics would be interested in both.  Interestingly, both Jungian studies and the Horror genre have simultaneously increased in popularity and respectability.  An obvious link between Jung and horror would be Freud‘s understanding of the Uncanny and I would say that the Uncanny would be magnified by the amorphous nature of the Jungian Collective Unconscious.  The Uncanny becomes quite horrific when it can no longer be safely contained within the human brain, no longer explained away as mere psychological mechanism.

New Age, Hillman, and the Paranormal

There are three other interconnected avenues of Jung‘s influence that I want to consider further. 

1) As Jung was influenced by the spiritual and the spiritualist movements of the 19th century, he in turn influenced the New Age movement of the 20th century.  Jung acts as a bridge and a synthesizer.  Jung himself and his ideas struggled for respectability, but still it was partly through his ideas that the New Age gained some respectability.  His views on archetypes gave many people a method/language (and an even playing field on which) to analyze mainstream culture and the dominant religions.  The New Age’s incorporation of archetypes, however, made them even less respectable to mainstream culture (at least until recently, maybe partly because the New Age has become more respectable).  If it weren’t for certain writers such as Joseph Campbell, Jung’s writings on comparative mythology might very well be less known and understood.  Joseph Campbell also helped to revive Jung’s study of Christianity in terms of mythology.  Specifically, it was Star Wars and the Hero’s Journey (i.e., Monomyth) that brought this all to a mainstream audience.  Suddenly, both Hollywood and Christianity had to come to terms with mythology… forcing Christianity to also come to terms with Hollywood and popular culture in general.  One other connection between Jung and the New Age would be Quantum Physics.  One of Jung’s patients was the physicist Wolfgang Pauli and they developed a friendship.  They both were interested in the connection between science and the mind, and this interest became symbolized by the number 137.  This number fascinated Pauli (and many other scientists) because the “fine structure constant” is approximately 1/137 which is neither very large nor very small but rather a human-sized number, a number that’s easy  to grasp.  Jung had discovered that going by the numerology related to Kabbalah that the word ‘Kabbalah’ added up to 137.  So, this number represented their shared interest, their shared ideal.  This desire to bridge matter and mind, science and psychology is a major part of New Age spirituality and of other thinkers outside of the New Age (e.g. Ken Wilber).

2) A second line of influence is that of James Hillman who was indebted to and critical of Jung‘s view.  He wrote a book about Jung’s typology and he was very much against it being used in a systematic fashion to categorize people.  To be fair, Jung was extremely wary of his typology being systematized.  Hillman can be considered as loosely a part of the thinking going on within and on the fringes of the New Age movement, but his ideas were a bit of an opposition to the idealistic strain of the New Age.  He believed suffering and illness should be accepted and understood on its own terms.  So, reality should be taken for what it is without trying to make it into something else.  Importantly, this view seems to be different than Freud‘s thinking in that Freud was apparently less trusting of human nature and experience (although there may be some minor similarity in that Freud emphasized helping people adapt rather than trying to fundamentally change them).  For instance, the Freudian-influenced Pessimism of Zapffe (and hence of Ligotti) posits that humans are deceived and self-deceiving.  Zapffe has a very good analysis of the methods people use to avoid suffering (which, to be honest, I’m not sure to what degree someone like Hillman would disagree).  From another perspective, Robert Avens, in his Imagination is Reality, draws on Hillman’s writings.  I found Avens’ analysis to be a useful counter example to the philosophical writings of Ligotti, but this is something I’m still working out.  I see some truth (and some limitations) in both perspectives.

3) The third aspect would be Jung‘s focus on the paranormal.  He studied the paranormal since he was young and had paranormal experiences of his own.  As he grew older, he saw the psyche and the archetypes as not being limited by the human brain.  His interest in the paranormal was far from idle.  Through his principle of synchronicity, he believed non-ordinary experiences had a very direct and practical impact on a person.  He also corresponded with the famous parapsychology researcher J.B. Rhine and they met once, but as I understand Jung was uncertain about the relationship between synchronicity and parapsychology research (since the former focuses on the subjective and the latter on the objective).  One of his last books was about UFOs and it was highly influential on a certain tradition of UFO researchers: Jacques Vallee and John Keel.  This tradition overlaps with Jung’s studies of and influence on religion and spirituality.  Vallee, like George P. Hansen, studied spiritual groups and religious cults.  I’m sure Keel studied those as well.  In The Eighth Tower, Keel details some of the biblical mythicist theories and Egyptology that had become increasingly popular starting in the 1970s (and, of course, he relates it to the paranormal).   Thus, paranormal research was combined with comparative mythology and folkore studies.  This is how Jungian ideas became linked with Charles Fort, another researcher into the paranormal.  Charles Fort was a different kind of thinker than Jung, but people interested in one often are interested in the other.  Even though I’m not as familiar with Fort, I do know he was highly influential on other writers and thinkers in his lifetime (John Cowper Powys, Sherwood Anderson, Clarence Darrow, Booth Tarkington, Theodore Dreiser, Ben Hecht, Alexander Woolcott and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.) and many later people as well too numerous to list (which includes many of the writers I discuss in this post).  A less known fact is that Fort wrote fiction stories that were published early in his career and a major part of his influence has been on fiction writers.  Both Jung and Fort read widely and both changed their minds as they came across new evidence.  Even more than the likes of Hillman, the Forteans are the real opposites of the New Agers.  However, Forteans and New Agers were both a part of the counterculture (before the New Age went mainstream with its being approved and popularized by Oprah).

These last three traditions do overlap in various ways. 

Patrick Harpur is a very interesting writer on the paranormal.  He references many of the above writers: Carl Jung, James Hillman, Robert Avens, Charles Fort, Jacques Vallee and John Keel.  George P. Hansen is even more wide ranging in that he references those same kinds of writers and he references various people from the New Age area and beyond all of that he also references many philosophers and scientists in other related fields.  Hansen is more difficult to categorize, but ultimately he might best fit in with the Fortean tradition.  Another writer I discovered recently is Keith Thompson who wrote a book that is similar to the writings of these other two.  Thompson and Hansen come to a similar conclusion about the Trickster archetype being fundamental to understanding the paranormal (which could be related to Jung’s insight that the Trickster figure was a precursor to the Savior figure). Thompson is also interesting in that he has very direct connections to the New Age and to Integralism.  Besides writing about UFOs, he did an interview with Robert Bly in the New Age magazine which was what first brought the mens movement into public attention.  Thompson credits Michael Murphy for supporting the ideas in the book early on partly by promoting a UFO group at the Esalen Institute (where, for instance, Joseph Campbell had taught in the past).  Michael Murphy has been closely associated with Ken Wilber and apparently Thompson is the same person who was the president of Wilber’s Integral Institute for a time.

Let me briefly point out that, in the context of the three Jungian-related traditions outlined above, there are some counterculture figures that are mixed into this general area of ideas: William S. Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Robert Anton Wilson, Terrence McKenna, and Philip K. Dick.  So, this brings in the fields of study involving psychology, consciousness research, psychedelics, epistemology, spiritual practice and conspiracy theories.  Also, I would add a connection here with Transpersonal psychology and the New Age in general.  If you’re a fan of the radio show Coast to Coast AM (formerly hosted by Art Bell and now hosted by George Noory), then these types of ideas and writers should be generally familiar to you (Terrence McKenna, in particular, was a regular guest).  I want to emphasize particularly William S. Burroughs as he was extremely interested in these kinds of subjects.  Despite Burroughs dark streak, he said he never doubted the existence of God.  He believed in lots of alternative ideas such as ESP, but most relevant here is that he visited Whitley Strieber who is one of the biggest names in the UFO encounter field.  In connection to Burroughs and Jung, Reich (who proposed the orgone theory) also had a strong interest in UFOs (which he connected with his orgone theory).  As a passing thought, this last connection of Reich reminds me of Paracelsus as the latter also speculated much about the paranormal (in terms of influences and beings).  Vallee discusses Paracelsus’ ideas in context of modern speculations about UFOs.

 

The Occult and the New Age, Spiritualism and the Theosophical Society

I need to backtrack a bit to delineate some other lines of influence.  I want to follow further the influence Mesmer and spiritualism had on fiction and I want to follow a different influence from the Theosophical Society.

Poe and Horror, Philip K. Dick and Neo-Noir

So, first, Mesmer and spiritualism had a wide influence on fiction, in particular the genre of horror.  Most significantly, I want to follow a divergent influence Poe had.  Poe is definitely one of the most influential writers for modern horror, but less recognized is that he is also considered by some to be the originator of the modern detective storyVictoria Nelson and Eric G. Wilson write about Poe’s horror writing, but those two also write about noir (which of course is grounded in the hard-boiled detective story) and neo-noir.  A major factor in the transforming of noir into neo-noir (and it’s related development into tecno-noir and influence on cyber-punk) was the writings of Philip K. Dick and especially the movie Blade Runner which was based on one of his novels.

My interest in noir and neo-noir has increased since reading Victoria Nelson and Eric G. Wilson… and a more recent addition to my library is Thomas S. Hibbs.  All three of them have helped me to understand the religious undertones and philosophical implications of this genre.  Nelson and Wilson cover similar territory, but Hibbs has a different view that emphasizes Pascal‘s ideas (which offers another counterbalance to Zapffe/Ligotti ideas).  Hibbs uses Pascal’s hidden God as a contrast to Nietzsche‘s God is dead.  He also writes some about Philip K. Dick, but apparently isn’t aware of PKD’s own notions about a hidden God (aka Zebra).

Nelson, in The Secret Life of Puppets, writes about writers such as Poe, Lovecraft, Philip K. Dick and C.S. Lewis in terms of mythology, puppets, alchemygnosticism, art and film; she also briefly writes about New Age groups and UFO cults.  More significantly, she discusses German Expressionism merging with “hard-boiled detective mode of pulp fiction” to form film noir.  She speaks of re-noir by which I assume she means the same genre that others call neo-noir.  She also goes into some detail about New Expressionism which seems closely connected with neo-noir.  Specifically of interest to me, she discusses the movie Blade Runner.  I’m not sure about her opinion on the subject but I think some consider that movie to be the first neo-noir film (or at least the first sf neo-noir film) which is a type of film that has become increasingly popular in the following decades.  Also, Blade Runner (along with PKD’s fiction) was a formative influence on cyber-punk.  As for neo-noir, besides being mixed with science fiction and fantasy, it has also used elements of horror as in Dark City.  This is natural fit considering Poe’s influence.  Another very interesting topic she discusses is Memoirs of My Nervous Illness by Daniel Paul Schreber.  She compares Schreber’s view of reality with that of Lovecraft’s fiction.  It’s also significant to note that Schreber’s memoir was made famous by Freud‘s analysis of it in terms of homosexuality and paranoia, and it was Jung who brought this text to Freud’s attention.  Nelson does discuss Freud in reference to Schreber and she discusses Jung in other parts of her book.

Wilson was influenced by Nelson and so was writing along similar lines, but with more emphasis on religion and also more emphasis on subjects such as the Gothic and Existentialism.  In one book, he goes into great detail about Gnosticism and the traditions of Cabala and alchemy which were formed partly from the ideas of Gnosticism.  Wilson also said he was influenced by Marina Warner who is also mentioned in Nelson’s writings.  Warner writes in a similar vein as these two, but it seems she has less interest in pop culture although she does write some about Philip K. Dick.  These writers point out the connection between high and low art and the connection between art and culture, between imagination and religion.

I could make even more connections here in terms of Gothic fiction and Existentialism.  I’ve read a number of fiction writers that fit in here, but I’m not sure about specific lines of influence.

Theosophy: Darkness and Light

Now, let me follow a very odd linking of people starting with the Theosophical society.

First, most people don’t realize that the distinction between the Occult and the New Age didn’t initially exist when these ideas were first being formulated.  Aleister Crowley was associated with the Theosophical Society and he considered it significant that he was born in the year that the organization was founded.  Crowley appreciated the work of Anna Kingsford who established Theosophy in England and briefly headed it.  Whereas Blavatsky had emphasized Oriental esotericism, Kingsford was in favor of a Western esotericism with a focus on Christianity and Hermeticism.  She supposedly was more known for her advocacy work for women’s rights, animal rights and vegetarianism.  She would seem to represent the more New Agey side of Theosophy which is odd considering the association with Crowley who was known as “the Beast”.

I want to momentarily point out a tangential thought that is relevant to the Theosophical Society and similar organizations.  George P. Hansen has written some useful analysis of the connection between the New Age and the Occult.  The following is mostly based on his ideas, but a similar analysis of the dark side of alien experiences can be found in the works of Jacques Vallee.

Intentional communities and Gurus are very popular amongst New Agers, but there is a dark side to this with Jim Jones, Charles Manson, and Heaven’s Gate.  Heaven’s Gate is an especially good example.  They were a UFO cult that was very New Agey in their interest in pop culture utopianism and their beliefs in alien/angels that would come to save them.  Many people who have alien abduction experiences are given messages by their captors.  They are made to feel special and that they have a mission to accomplish.  They are often told that the world is ailing or even dying, and that the aliens have come to save the planet or the aliens have come to save an elect few.  You can find similar messages in New Age channeled writings (and in the historical accounts of various traditional religions as well).

I was reading a book by Vallee who began his career as a scientist before becoming a UFO investigator.  He was one of the first people to make a connection between alien abductions and traditional folklore.  In the intro to one of his books, he mentioned that he had studied Teilhard de Chardin and appreciated his view.  Teilhard de Chardin is a name that comes up in discussions about both both New Age and Integral theory.

The Two Krishnamurtis

To return to the topic of the Theosophical Society, after Blavatsky died there was major conflict.  Crowley became antagonistic and various leaders turned against each other.  Rudolf Steiner helped to establish the German and Austrian division as independent, and out of this Anthroposophical Society formed.  The Americans also split off and later split again.  Annie Besant and Henry Olcott took over the division in India.

So, in India, J. Krishnamurti was adopted by Annie Besant and was groomed to be a World Teacher which Crowley didn’t like (I’m not sure why, but maybe he wanted to be the World Teacher).  U.G. Krishnamurti, through his grandfather, became involved in Theosophy in his teenage years.  The two Krishnamurtis met while a part of the Theosophical Society.  They shared their views with eachother and shared a questioning attitude.  Both rejected the role of guru which led to both leaving the Theosophical Society.  However, J. Krishnamurti did continue an informal career as spiritual teacher which U.G. Krishnamurti criticized as his having become a guru after all (and U.G. has been called an anti-guru and even the anti-Krishnamurti).  Both Krishnamurtis had profound spiritual experiences that transformed them, but U.G. Krishnamuti’s experiences led to a less popular viewpoint in that he believed that the physical world was all that existed.  According to my limited study of U.G., his view of no-mind seems something like a materialistic version of Zen.  J. Krishnamurti, on the other hand, is very popular with the New Age crowd (which is where I learned of him).  For instance, the same type of person who writes about J. Krishnamurti also writes about A Course In Miracles (another early influence of mine)… by the way, ACIM according to Kenneth Wapnick (who helped form the text) has a similar theology to Valentinian Gnosticism (which makes sense as the Nag Hammadi discovery was just beginning to become popular at that time). 

 

Horror Writers and Scholars

From Ligotti to Wilber

To get back on topic, U.G. Krishnamurti is less well known as he didn’t see himself as having a public mission.  His writings are on the extreme fringe of the New Age, but I’m not sure what kind of person is typically attracted to his philosophy.  However, I was interested to discover that Thomas Ligotti mentions him in an interview.  U.G. Krishnamurti’s materialistic bent fits in with the general trend of Ligotti’s thinking, but I’m not sure what value Ligotti would see in even a materialistic spirituality (not that U.G. was trying to promote its value).  I was reading from a thread on Thomas Ligotti Online that the story “The Shadow, The Darkness” was a direct homage to U.G. Krishnamurti.

Anyways, Ligotti represents an interesting connection between Horror and many other ideas.  Ligotti’s favorite thinker apparently is the Pessimistic philosopher Zapffe.  I came across that Zapffe was close friends with and mentor to Arnes Naess.  That is extremely intriguing as Naess was the founder of the Deep Ecology movement.  I find it humorous to consider the hidden seed of Zapffe’s Pessimism at the foundation of Deep Ecology.  Like Theosophy, Deep Ecology is another major influence on New Age thinking.  This confluence of Horror and the New Age is maybe to be expected for I suppose it isn’t entirely atypical for someone like Ligotti to go from being a spiritual seeker to becoming a fully committed Pessimist.  In terms of ideas, the opposites of optimistic idealism and pessimistic realism seem to evoke each other… as they say, scratch a cynic and you’ll find a failed idealist.  I was thinking recently that horror as an experience can only exist in contrast to hope.  If humans had no hope, then there’d be no horror.  So, the greatest horror is only possible with the greatest hope and the contrary would seem to be true as well.  In terms of environmentalism, Pessimism is a natural fit anyhow.  Environmental writers such as Paul Shepard and Derrick Jensen are far from optimistic about the human situation.  Paul Shepard, in particular, seems to have ideas that resonate with Zapffe’s view that something went wrong in the development of early humanity.  Along these lines, a book that would fit in here is The Love of Nature and the End of the World by Shierry Weber Nicholsen.

I think this is a good place to mention Julian Jaynes.  He was a psychologist who became famous through his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.  His ideas generally relate to the kind of ideas put forth by Paul Shepard, Ken Wilber, Max Weber, Karl Jaspers, and Peter Wessel Zapffe.  He theorized that human consciousness was different in the past and a shift happened during early civilization.  He thought that ancient man’s mind was more externalized with less sense of individuality… something like schizophrenia.  He had two sources of evidence for his theory.  He saw traces of this early mode of consciousness in the oldest surviving writings and he referenced psychology research that demonstrated that stimulating parts of the brain could elicit a person hearing voices.  The reason I mention him is because he influenced, along with many others, both William S. Burroughs and Ken Wilber.  Buroughs wrote about Jayne’s ideas in his essay “Sects and Death” and Wilber wrote about them in his book Up from Eden.

Related to Deep Ecology is Phenomenology for Deep Ecologists have often used it to support their view.  This is so because, in Phenonmenology, there is something of an animistic appreciation of nature.  Phenomenology influenced Enactivism which is a fairly new theory involving the scientific study of consciousness and perception.  Enactivism was also influenced by Buddhism and as such Enactivism tries to scientifically explain our direct experience of reality.  Enactivism especially discusses the connection between mind and body.  I bring this up because Ken Wilber, who is critical of Deep Ecology, is a major contributor to and proponent of Integral theory which has had some fruitful dialogue with Enactivism (see my post ENACTIVISM, INTEGRAL THEORY, AND 21st CENTURY SPIRITUALITY).  Irwin Thomson has co-written some books with the Enactivist theorists, and  Ken Wilber has been contrasted with William Irwin Thomson (the father of Irwin Thomson).  The former is a systematic thinker and the latter non-systematizing, and yet both write about similar subjects.  (Jung was more of a non-systematizer and that might be why Wilber ended up feeling critical towards his ideas.)  Ken Wilber is useful to bring up as he has synthesized many different fields of knowledge and he has helped to bridge the gap between academia and spirituality.  Also, Wilber has become a major figure in popular culture such as his speaking on the commentary tracks for the Matrix trilogy.

I want to point out that there has been much dialogue between the ideas of Wilber and those of Jung.  Jung’s less systematic style of thought also allowed for great shift in his understanding over time.  This makes it difficult to understand Jung’s spectrum of ideas as his opinions changed.  Wilber, on the other hand, is extremely systematic and his theory has remained fairly consistent even as he adds to it.  Wilber does have some basic understanding of Jung which he describes in some of his books, but various people have pointed out some inaccuracies in his understanding.  As a systematizer of many fields, Wilber inevitably simplifies many theories in order to evaluate and synthesize them.  However, to understand the connection between Jung and Wilber it would be better to look to a third-party viewpoint.  The best example of this would be Gerry Goddard (whose lifework tome can be found on the Island Astrology website).  I bring up Goddard for another reason.  Goddard was also a systematizer like Wilber, but he brings a number of other writers into his theory.  As I recall, he gives a more fair assessment of Jung.  Also, he includes the ideas of Richard Tarnas and Stanislav Grof.  I briefly mentioned Tarnas at the beginning.  Tarnas is a historian whose writing is a useful resource for understanding the development of ideas across the centuries, and he also has an interest in astrology.  Tarnas wrote a very interesting book about history and astrology that Goddard references.  Goddard also writes about the psychologist Stanislav Grof who is often contrasted with Wilber.  Grof is interesting as he started off researching psychedelics, but later focused on non-psychedelic methods of altering the mind (such as breathing techniques) for the purposes of psychotherapy.  Goddard is a less known theorist, but is a good example of the relationships between some of the people I mention.

There is another related distinction I’d like to make.  Wilber and Goddard are systematizers which somehow connects with their work being squarely set in the field of non-fiction.  Wilber did write a novel, but even then it was simply a mouthpiece for his non-fiction.  William Irwin Thomson seems more like Jung.  Along with wide ranging interests, they both were deeply interested in the creative as well as the intellectual side of human experience.  By deeply interested I mean that they sought to express themselves creatively.  Jung was often painting or carving stone or simply playing around with whatever was at hand.  I don’t know as much about Thomson, but I’ve seen poetry he has written and I’ve seen him referenced as a poet.  Also, Thomson writes about literature.  Along these lines, Philip K. Dick and William S. Burroughs would also be of this latter category of non-systematic creative thinkers.  Ligotti is a bit harder to fit in with this scheme.  He definitely has strong interest in both fiction and non-fiction, but relative to PKD and Burroughs he seems much more systematic and focused.

Let me conclude this section by saying that Ken Wilber is a major focal point of my own thinking simply for the fact that he covers so much territory and because his ideas have become the focus of more intellectual discussions of spirituality.  He is relevant to my discussion also because he was influenced by the counterculture ideas of his Boomer generation and so he is familiar with many of the people I’ve mentioned so far.  Wilber was interested in alternative ideas like those of Jung, but ended up setting his theory in opposition to depth psychology, transpersonal psychology and deep ecology.  Unhappily, Wilber often gets categorized in bookstores along with the very New Age writers he criticizes.  Similar to Ligotti, he spent much time seriously seeking spiritual perspectives which in his case even included following a guru for a while.  Ligotti and Wilber represent two very intellectual responses to the search for knowledge and understanding.

Burroughs in relation to Ligotti and PKD

Similarly, as I’ve stated elsewhere (see here), Ligotti and Philip K. Dick represent two very different responses to William S. Burroughs as they were both influenced by him.  I really don’t know the specifics of how Burroughs had an effect on Ligotti.  Supposedly, he said that Burroughs was his last artistic hero, but as far as I can tell he doesn’t otherwise speak about Burroughs much.  Burroughs was quite the Pessimist in many ways and so it’s a bit surprising that I didn’t notice his name being mentioned in the excerpt of Ligotti’s non-fiction from the Collapse journal.  Maybe when his full nonfiction work is published there’ll be something about Burroughs in it.  Actually, in some ways, Burroughs comes off as darker than Ligotti.  On the other hand, Burroughs had an explicitly spiritual side.  Gnosticism is particularly clear in Burroughs’ perspective and that is where PKD saw a connection to his own philosophizing.  This Gnosticism is a direct connection to Jung, at least for PKD but probably for Burroughs as well since I know that he was familiar with Jung.  PKD, however, is more Jungian in his view of gender in that both PKD and Jung apparently were influenced by the Gnostic (and Taoist) emphasis on gender as a way of thinking about the dualistic nature of the psyche.  Burroughs’ understanding of gender could also have its origins partly in Gnosticism as there was a strain of Gnosticism that was less idealistic about gender differences.  Burroughs considered himself Manichaean which was a religion with an ascetic tradition and which emphasized dualism to a greater degree (I find it humorous to consider that the great Church Doctor Augustine was also a Manichaean for many years before his conversion… which makes me wonder what Burroughs opinion was about Augustine).  Another distinction here is that Jung and PKD maintained relationships with Christians and biblical scholars, but I can’t imagine Burroughs having much interest in Christianity.  Burroughs, rather, saw Gnosticism as in opposition to Christianity.

Poe and Lovecraft, Christianity and Gnosticism

Another connection would be favorite writers.  I mentioned Poe already.  Poe was a major favorite of Burroughs, Ligotti and PKD.  Lovecraft would be another writer to bring up as he was influenced by Poe.  Lovecraft in turn had a tremendous impact on Ligotti and PKD, and Burroughs made references to Lovecraft in a number of places.  Also, Burroughs supposedly was taught about Mayan codices by Robert H. Barlow who was Lovecraft’s literary executor.  I was reading that Burroughs met Barlow in Mexico while studying anthropology.  An interest in cultures would be something that Burroughs shares with PKD and Jung, but I don’t have a sense that Ligotti has much interest in this area or at least he doesn’t seem to write about it.  To add a quick note, there is a nice essay by Graham Harman in Collapse IV that brings together Lovecraft, Poe and Phenomenology.

Yet another connection is that of Robert M. PricePrimarily, Price is a biblical scholar, but he has many interests including weird writing, superheroes and philosophy.  He seems to have been somewhat of a Lovecraft expert in the past and has written his own Lovecraftian stories.  Price’s interest in Lovecraft makes sense in terms of his interest in Gnosticism as Lovecraft’s view of reality is essentially that of Gnostic archons minus the Gnostic true God (there is a good analysis of Lovecraft’s philosophy in Sieg’s “Infinite  Regress” from Collapse IV).  Price also has written an essay about Ligotti that was published in The Thomas Ligotti Reader.  I know of Price mostly through his biblical scholarship as he writes about Gnosticism and mythicism which are two of my favorite topics.  He doesn’t identify as a mythicist, but is very supportive of mythicist theorists such as Earl Doherty and D.M. Murdock (aka Acharya S) and he highly respects some of the scholarship that was done in this regard during the 19th century.  Robert M. Price also has written quite a bit about Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell.  He seems to have some respect for these two, but he also seems to be very critical of how their ideas have been used by New Agers.

To make a related point, D.M. Murdock‘s most recent book is about Christianity and Egyptology.  In it, she references the likes of Price and Campbell.  A major issue for Murdock is the literalism of traditional Christianity which was an issue that Campbell spilled much ink over.  The literal is seen as opposed to the imaginal according to the views of Hillman and AvensWilber makes similar distinctions using different models and terminology.  As for the Egyptian religion, I’d point out that it was a major interest of Burroughs (and Eric G. Wilson too).  There is a strong connection between Gnosticism and Egypt.  A distinction that some make between Gnosticism and Christianity is that the former preferred allegory rather than literal interpretation.  This began with the Alexandrian Jews in Egypt whose Platonic allegorizing of Jewish scriptures was acceptable even to some of the Church fathers.  The difference is that many Gnostics allegorized and spiritualized the gospel stories as well. 

I want to note here E. A. Wallis Budge who was one of the most respectable early Egyptologists.  Murdock references him to a great degree, and any thinker involved with early Christianity and Western mythology would be fully aware of his scholarship.  Of course, writers such as Mead, Price, and Campbell are familiar with his work.  Also, he was known by writers such as Burroughs and John Keel.  And surely Eric G. Wilson would’ve come across his writings.  Budge’s scholarship put Egyptology on the map and helped put it in context of early Western history including Christianity.  Budge is surprisingly not that well known to most people, but trust me he had massive influence on many thinkers over this last century.  Egyptology had already taken hold of the Western imagination by earlier scholars.  Poe used Egyptian elements in some of his stories and Poe died a few years before Budge’s birth.  Budge lived closer to the turn of the century around the time of Carl Jung, Franz Kafka, H.P. Lovecraft, and Charles Fort.

Two Kinds of Thinkers

I want to describe one last aspect that I articulated partly in my post Burroughs, PKD, and Ligotti.  I was distinguishing Ligotti as different from Burroughs and PKD in an important respect.  The latter two were extremely restless thinkers and seekers which seemed represented and maybe contributed to by their drug experimentation.  The only drugs that I’ve seen Ligotti mention are those that are medically prescribed for his bi-polar condition and so they’re designed to make him less restless.  I would guess that Burroughs was one of the first writers to truly popularize drug experimentation, but it took others to bring it into the mainstream.  It was during the ’60s that drug experimentation became a hot topic and Timothy Leary I suppose was the most major proponent.  However, many forget that Leary was originally a psychologist and a respected one at that.  There was this meeting of ideas at that time which has persisted: psychedelics, psychology, spirituality, occultism, ufos and conspiracy theories.  Robert Anton Wilson, a friend of Leary, was the one who really synthesized all of these seeming disparate subjects (and, if I remember correctly, it’s through his writing that I first read about Wilhelm Reich).  Another person was Terrance McKenna who in some ways picked up where Leary left off, but his focus was on mushrooms rather than LSD.

Philip K. Dick was aware of this whole crowd and it all fits into his own brand of counterculture philosophizing.  Specifically, he wrote about McKenna (and vice versa).  A common interest that PKD and McKenna shared was Taoism and the I Ching which they both connected to synchronicity.  They inherited this line of thought from Carl Jung who wrote an introduction to a popular translation of the I Ching.  As a side not, I’d add that McKenna’s view of UFOs are also influenced by Jung (and seem in line with theories of Vallee and Hansen).  To put this in context, Jung would relate psychic manifestations such as UFOs with synchronicity.  Related to this, Burroughs’ cut-up technique was based on the principle of synchronicity.  PKD was interested in Burroughs’ technique as it fit into his own beliefs about messages appearing in unexpected ways (i.e., God in the garbage or in the gutter).  Oppositely, this technique is something that Ligotti strongly disliked.  This makes sense as Ligotti seems to be more of a systematic writer, a perfectionist even (which neither Burroughs nor PKD aspired towards).  Along these lines, consider the random and meandering philosophizing of Burroughs and PKD in the context of Ligotti’s carefully articulated Pessimism.  To quote Quentin S. Crisp in the comments of his blog post Negotiating With Terrorists (where he writes about Ligotti’s use of U.G. Krishnamurti): “My own cosmic unease is, I think, far more open-ended than that of Ligotti. I honestly can’t see him ever changing his position, and it’s a position that has already concluded and closed.”  I doubt Crisp would want to be held down to that opinion as anything more than a tentative commentary, but it touches upon my own suspicion about Ligotti’s view.  I don’t mean to imply any criticism of Ligotti for I do sense that Ligotti’s writings are true to his experience (which, going by his own distinguishing between Lovecraft and Shakespeare, is something he values).  By quoting Crisp’s comment, I’m only trying to clarify the difference between Ligotti and certain other writers.  After all, restless inconclusiveness isn’t exactly a desirable state of being (which I’m pretty sure Crisp is well aware of).

Anyhow, the distinction here between these two kinds of writers is similar to the distinction I pointed out between William Irwin Thomson and Ken WilberIn my Enactivist post (linked above), I use MBTI and Hartmann’s boundary types (via George P. Hansen’s writing) to try to understand this difference.  Obviously, one could divide up writers in various ways, but this seems a fairly natural division that my mind often returns to.

For further analysis on types of writers, read the following blog post:

Fox and Hedgehog, Apollo and Dionysus

 

Conclusion: Different Perspectives

Many of the writers I’ve brought up disagree about different issues, and yet they’re a part of a web of relationships and ideas.  I wonder if the overall picture offers more insight than the opinion of any given writer.  These traditions of beliefs and lineages of ideas represent something greater than any individual.  I’d even go so far as to say that it shows a process of the cultural psyche collectively thinking out issues of importance, and certain people become focal points for where ideas converge and create new offspring.

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Note: There are many more connections that could be made.  I’m curious how other writers might fit in: Hardy, Baudelaire, Borges, Kafka and Blake; Gothic writers, Romanticists, Transcendentalists and Existentialists; the brothers of William James and Henry James; the Powys brothers; various philosophers such as Nietzsche and Pascal.  Et Cetera.  In particular, it could be fruitful to explore Lovecraft further.  He wrote both fiction and non-fiction.  Also, he was immensely influential as a writer and in terms of his relationsips as he corresponded with many people.  Another angle of connections would be organizations formed around the scholarship of specific people.  There is the Fortean Society and the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich which were both formed during the lifetimes of Fort and Jung, but there is also the Joseph Campbell Foundation which was formed after Campbell’s death.  These organizations attracted many thinkers who also became well known for their own scholarship and writings.  Also, I could include the website Thomas Ligotti Online.  Ligotti is still alive, but he has such a cult following that a website (including a forum) was created by a fan.  This forum has attracted a number of other published weird fiction writers such as Quentin S. Crisp and Matt Cardin (both of whom write about the kinds of things I mention in this post).  There are also organizations such as the Esalen Institue which has attracted many diverse thinkers and has led to much cross-pollination of ideas.

PKD, ACIM, and Burroughs

Philip K. Dick (PKD) had the idea of God as hidden and yet present in the world.  God invades the world and re-creates it, makes real that which lacks fundamental reality.  In light of this, I was thinking of another idea from A Course In Miracles (ACIM) which is that God doesn’t make real or even recognize our false creations.  Supposedly God sees us as we truly are no matter how we see ourselves.  Maybe, in a sense, both are right.  As God’s reality is hidden from us, our reality is hidden from God.  We can make this rationally coherent by proposing the Gnostic view that the divine can simultaneously be fallen and not fallen.  Also, from the Gnostic view, Jesus acts as mediary for he understands our predicament as God cannot.  Jesus, like all of us as separate individuals, is not ultimately real.  But Jesus reflects the light of the real, acts as a remembrance of the real.  If we can recognize that we are the fallen divine, then we can remember that the divine never really fell.

PKD had another idea borrowed from earlier Christians: the Ape of God.  The god of this world mimics the creative powers of the God of heaven, or if you prefer the emanating fullness of the pleroma.  The Ape of God, however, creates falsely.  In terms of ACIM, the Ape of God is the ego.  Even though ACIM posits no evil, ACIM does distinguish between the false and the real which would fit some definitions of evil and good.  Anyways, ACIM is clear that the false use of the creative power serves no useful end whatever terms one wishes to use.  PKD, on the other hand, theorized that the Ape of God may serve a positive purpose, may even be an artifact of the one true God.  Maybe God needs to remain hidden to accomplish his task and so we need to temporarily remain in this dream.  This attitude necessitates faith in God being in control and using that control to a benevolent end.  We will all awaken one day and the sufferings of the dream will be forgotten.  For PKD, that is our hope and consolation.

PKD had a further notion about these two ideas.  The hidden God and the Ape of God both operate in the world, one seemingly good and the other seemingly bad.  PKD felt that the two were inseparable.  The world could be seen as a game with two players, but still the game is being played out by a single God.  William S. Burroughs thought that evil often appeared as good and good as evil.  This is an aspect of the hidden God.  God isn’t where we expect him; or, as PKD stated it, God in the garbage.  Burroughs was more cynical than PKD and saw this world as one to be escaped.  PKD, on the other hand, believed escape was not necessary or maybe even possible.  Accordingly, we may “escape” our delusions and misunderstandings, but we can’t escape the world.  We need not seek out God because God will seek out us.  PKD went so far as to say God can’t be found.  God reveals himself for reasons that are a mystery to us, and God’s hand can’t be forced.

PKD started out much more of a dualist, and Burroughs seems to have remained a dualist.  For Burroughs, the god of this world and the God of the Western Lands are two entirely separate beings.  Burroughs said he always believed in God but, oddly for a writer, not the God of the Word.  He apparently took from Christianity that this world was created from the Word; but since this world didn’t seem good to him, he believed that neither was the God who created it.  Interestingly, PKD was influenced by Burroughs Gnostic thinking.  Both sought God in unlikely places, and PKD was interested in Burroughs cut-up technique.  The idea is that if language is broken up from its normal order, true information can be revealed (God in disorder similar to God in garbage).  So, language could be used to see beyond language as long as one realized that Truth existed beyond the Word.  PKD also sometimes seemed to equate the creative Word as part of the deceptiveness of this created world, but it was a deceptiveness serving a good purpose.  Burroughs, of course, saw no good in it (even though he saw goodness or the potential for goodness in people or at least some people).

The mixing of the seeming good and the seeming evil is the trick of PKD’s maneuvering past dualism.  PKD remained fascinated with dualities but felt they were contained in a larger whole.  PKD had begun to question what he saw as the dualism of Gnosticism, and later in life he questioned Christianity for the same reasons.  He was drawn to the Greek idea of pantheistic monism.  He saw in Greek philosophy a love of symmetry and beauty that he felt lacking in Christianity.  He once had a vision of a world beyond a golden door (i.e., Golden Rectangle).  It was utterly perfect and he saw a young woman within that world.  He somehow knew this woman was Aphrodite and that this world was the Greek otherworld rather than the Christian heaven.  Burroughs believed in the Egyptian idea of an otherworld which I don’t know if it at all resembled PKD’s vision of the Palm Tree Garden.  For certain, there is a clear distinction between Burrough’s vision of a perfect world only attainable in death and PKD’s vision of divine reality existing as part of this world.  The former, to the extent that I understand Burrough’s view, is entirely dualistic in that the worlds of good and evil shall never meet.

So, what conclusion can we come to about dualism?  My sense is that PKD is right that absolute dualism is false, but maybe dualism still portrays something true in our experience.  From PKD’s perspective, it’s necessary that we take the game seriously even though it is only a game.  Dualism, according to PKD, may serve a purpose of purification of the world.  The good needs to remain hidden so that the evil can be more apparent.  If good were to be obvious, then evil would mimic it and we wouldn’t be able to distinguish the two.  God must act as an undercover agent in enemy territory.  God may even forget himself in entering the human realm, but he leaves clues for himself (something like the Hymn of the Pearl).  In a sense, we are all God hidden in the form of the human for the spark of God exists within every person.

The hiddenness of God allows for the subtlety of faith.  Faith must be developed and that is what God encourages in remaining hidden (yet available).  This offers freedom to choose.  God is intimately close to everyone, but every person must choose what he sees.  Even though God can’t be found out through force, by a shift of perception we can open ourselves to the possibility of revelation.  A simple shift is all that is necessary (and an immensely humble patience is also helpful).  This fits in with the idea of willingness in ACIM.  However, unlike ACIM and Burroughs, PKDs evil can serve the purpose of good for the reason that God can and does use everything to his end.  Furthermore, there is nothing to fear because the Second Coming already happened… for those who have eyes to see.

In general, PKD was interested in dualities which is something he probably picked up from his studies of Gnosticism (and Jung).  He had many theories about dualities.  Along with the good and evil issue, he connected the views of a lower and higher world in which he saw this world as the meeting ground for the two.  He thought about this partly as a depth perception in time rather than space, the two worlds being two perspectives that create our perception of reality (the mind itself reflecting this split in reality).  This also relates to his idea of how the Holy Spirit flows backwards in time.  So, the backward flow with the “normal” experience of forward flow creates the present.  I could go on and on with PKD”s philosophizing about dualities, but I’ll only add one further aspect. 

PKD, in line with the Gnostics (and Jung), was very much interested in the duality of male and female and how this corresponds to spiritual truths.  For PKD, this was very personal.  He had a twin sister who died as an infant and this made him obsessed with this sense of a missing part of himself.  He was obsessed with the “dark-haired girl” both in his fiction and in his personal life.  More importantly, he had that vision of the divine feminine which stuck with him.  Burroughs, to the contrary, was more critical of the feminine to the point of being called a misogynist.  Going by an essay he wrote on the matter, I don’t think he was actually a misogynist but simply a pessimist about life in general.  He just had a negative view of life, of embodied existence.  He wasn’t trying to simply blame it all on women.  Still, he certainly wasn’t idealizing the feminine either.  Personally, my experience is more in line with PKD.  I fel a certain connection to the divine feminine.  Understanding the interplay, psychologically and spiritually, between the feminine and the masculine seems important to me.

Let me return to the views about the world of the good, of the true.  Burroughs believed the Western Lands was distant and the path arduous.  PKD believed (as did certain Gnostics, Kabbalists and Christian mystics) that the Kingdom is all around us and even within us, that the Kingdom is right here and now in this world (necessitating dual vision).  I must say both make sense to me in that both speak to that which feels true in my experience.  Oftentimes, the divine does feel infinitely distant and infinitely alien to this world.  God is so far beyond my comprehension that I’m left with nothing useful to say (which doesn’t stop me from trying)).  But I sense the reality of something that, although beyond me, does exist within or at least touches upon my experience and so is intimately close (there is some comfort this at least).  It’s right here, and yet always beyond my grasp.  Like Gnostic Valentinus, I suspect that all believers may be saved in some sense, but still gnosis is very much desirable.  What good does the hope (or even certainty) of being saved do when people are lost in delusion and ideology?  Seeing truly is of utmost importance in this world and such discernment is no easy task.  The kingdom may be all around us, but the trick is to truly understand what this means.  Belief isn’t enough.  We must know… or else we suffer (and cause suffering) in our unknowing. 

To quote PKD from his Exegesis (1978 entry, p. 143, In Pursuit of Valis):

The Valentinian ontological assessment of knowledge is not that it (the Gnosis) leads to salvation or is knowledge about salvation.  But that in the act (event, revelation, experience) of knowing in itself lies salvation.  Because in knowing, there is restoration of man’s lost state, & a reversal of his present state of ignorance.  Upon knowing, man is again what he originally was.

This knowing isn’t a conclusion.  From the conventional sense of reality, it’s an utter paradox (a dualistic view that allows for seemingly contradictory experiences).  We are saved and yet the world remains as it was.  We simply remember what always has been true.  The hidden is glimpsed, but even in its revelation it remains hidden from our intellect.  We can’t really understand it no matter how much we try.  PKD  accepted the failure of the intellect and saw in this very failure a hidden success.  This was part of the paradox.  Seeking God always fails, but only in our failing can we find God.  The seeking is necessary in its own way.

To quote PKD once more from his Exegesis (1979 entry, p. 91, In Pursuit of Valis):

I actually had to develop a love of the disordered & puzzling, viewing reality as a vast riddle to be joyfully tackled, not in fear but with tireless fascination.  What has been most needed is reality testing, & a willingness to face the possibility of self-negating experiences; ie., real contradictions, with something being true and not true.

The enigma is alive, aware of us, & changing.  It is partly created by our own minds; we alter it by perceiving it, since we are not outside it.  As our views shift, it shifts in a sense it is not there at all (acosmism).  In another sense it is a vast intelligence; in another sense it is total harmonia and structure (how logically can it be all three?  Well, it is).

Response to jesusblogger: early trinity beliefs

My comment to a post by jesusblogger:

http://jesusblogger.wordpress.com/2009/05/02/did-the-majority-of-christians-believe-in-the-trinity-before-ad-325/

I’m sure my view of Christianity is different than yours, but I appreciate you pointing out this discrepancy between early and later Christian doctrine. And it certainly isn’t the only example. One thing that I found interesting is how later Christians often judged the views of Christians prior to them as heretical. The earliest Christian church held many diverse views including those of Valentinus and Marcion. Then the heresiologists took over the church and declared heretical these early church views of Christianity.

I find it odd that all of the earliest commentators of the New Testament were later banned and burned. For instance, the first NT commentary ever written (by Basilides) was entirely destroyed by other Christians later on and the first commentators of Paul and John were labelled as not being Christian (i.e., Gnostic). The funny thing is that many of the third century Christians who judged heretical the views of some of the first and second century Christians were themselves deemed heretical (in part or whole) by fourth and fifth century Christians.

The heresiologists only came into power a century or more after Jesus and so why should we give them priority over the Christians that actually knew Christianity as it was first forming? This is a very important question considering that scholarship has shown how much the New Testament was altered (intentionally and accidentally) in the centuries after the life of Jesus. What we now consider the canonical New Testament took centuries to form and the idea of a Christian canon was originated by a Gnostic (i.e., Marcion).

It’s difficult uncovering what was original to the earliest Christians, but it’s worth the effort even if it means doubting what has become doctrine in what is called “traditional” Christianity.  What seems obvious to me is that there was no single monolithic view of Jesus from the beginning.  Even accepting the canonical New Testament as it is, there are very important differences between the gospels: differing details (some quite significant), different ideas and words emphasized, etc.  And the differences between the gospel writers and Paul are even more interesting. 

The challenge is that, if the ealiest Christians weren’t even of a single agreement about every issue, how are we to decide what is authentic almost two thousand years later?  If the heresiologists from the second century on were seemingly so misunderstanding of the earlier Christians, then how are we to come to a better understanding now?  It takes immense amounts of study along with soul searching doubts and questions to even begin to grasp an inkling of the common threads to early Christianity.

Jesus: Trickster Who Saves The Damsel In Distress

A while back, I purchased several collections of Gnostic (and early Christian) texts.  I’ve been reading them off and on.  I’ve noticed a couple of things.

First, a number of Gnostic texts refer to the Christ in a particular way.  One text said that different people called him by different names and he didn’t care by which name he was called.  Another one said that the Christ presented himself in different forms and that people saw what they expected.  These seem like attributes of a trickster.  I’ve noticed in reading books about comparative mythology that saviors are very close to tricksters.  Many saviors have trickster like qualities, especially as children.  There is even an apocryphal text of Jesus’ childhood that portrays him as a troublemaker with magical powers.  Some Gnostics portrayed Jesus as only apparently physical and so couldn’t really suffer.  One story has him switch places with someone and that person suffers on the cross as Jesus laughs.  A very strange character, but no stranger than any other trickster/savior figure. 

Here is a blog post by Tim Boucher: Jesus, The Trickster

Second, the Christ is typically spoken of as descending into the material world.  The Christ represents the active masculine principle that seeks out Sophia who is the feminine soul lost in this lower realm ruled over by the Demiurge.  This also made me think of comparative mythology.  In many myths, the savior will rescue the woman from the tyrant through fighting but also through intelligence and deception.  Here is something from the Wikipedia article about Sophia (wisdom):

The analogy of the fall and recovery of Sophia is echoed (to a varying degree) in many different myths and stories (see Damsel in distress). Among these are:

Interesting Blogs About Christianity

I came across some interesting blogs about Christianity.

The first is called The New Heretics.  The blogger is remaining anonymous until he finishes bible college.  The blog is about his losing his faith and exploring his sense of the spiritual.  It is the most open-minded, intellectually honest, and heart-felt blog I’ve come across in a long time.  I can tell that the blogger cares deeply and isn’t simply out to bash other people’s religion.  Two posts I enjoyed are The best joke ever?  and  Recovering from Christianity.

The second is called The Forbidden Gospels Blog.  The blogger is April DeConick.  She  is a professor of Biblical Studies and an author.  I like the ideas that she brings up in her blog, and she attracts intelligent commenters.  Here are some of the posts I found: Those exclusive Gnostics?!, Accomodation to society in Gnosticism, Transtheism or Supratheism?, Transtheism/Supratheism follow up, and Transtheism it is.

I came across these two blogs from links in the blog HYPEREKPERISSOU.  Its a Christian blog written by someone going by the name of Phil and he seems fairly orthodox, but he links to many other bloggers including my own (here).

Thoughts about Horror

I was just having a discussion with my friend.  We were talking about horror writing and what defines it.  

Neither of us enjoys slasher horror which I equate to violence porn, and for the most part violent movies tend not to be very scary to me.  Most violent horror flicks seem superficial and predictable.  There are many other types of horror writing besides.  There is your traditional supernatural story where a normal person encounters some strange phenomena often in some place that is old and dark.  That kind of horror has been done well by some authors, but its failing is that it externalizes horror. 

The real horror is the experience of horror itself, the horror that can’t be easily categorized.  The extreme version of this has been called metaphysical horror or atmospheric horror.  It goes beyond mere psychological horror.  This horror is neither internal nor external.  What makes it deeply horrifying is that the lines are blurred.  The most famous representative of metaphysical/atmospheric horror is Lovecraft. 

This type of horror relates to a blog I wrote previously: Zen Great Doubt, Existentialist Angst, and Gnostic Longing.  I was responding to a comment in a thread about spirituality.  The commenter goes by the name Jim and this is what he said:

In Victor Hori’s book on the Rinazi Koans, Victor interprets the Great Doubt (the death of meaning?) as a kind of “samadhi,” and what follows it (in which meaning is reconstituted?) as kensho or satori . . . .  I’ve heard “Great Doubt” likened to Jaspers’ notion of  the “Grenzsituation” or “boundary situation,” a condition or situation through which a person can neither escape nor transcend. Jaspers describes it as a cul-de-sac where the person can neither go forward nor backward forcing the person back on her own resources so that she experiences existential “Existenz.”

Hakuin (1689 – 1769), said of his own “Great Doubt” that “It was as though I were frozen solid in the midst of an ice sheet extending tens of thousands of miles. I could neither go forward nor retreat.

Hakuin says that great doubt is like hanging over an abyss: “we have no where to go (really) but down – eventually we must all let go and jump – it is supposedly that act which propels us to the next level – to enlightenment. What would bring us to this point – where we are willing to give up the self? Does the fall into the abyss always result in enlightenment? How would we know? What do we have to give up or suspend to make such a leap?”

I responded with this…

The following is a quote of Eric G. Wilson from his book The Melancholy Android.  Wilson, in speaking about Hans Jonas’ book The Gnostic Religion, has this to say(p. 68):

The greatest task of the fallen anthropos is not to work through his anxiety, alenation, and confusion.  It is to keep his melancholia acute. His sadness corresponds to his readiness for gnosis.  But the world conspires against his dejection, offering him either the brief comforts of matter or the more lasting solaces of soul.  Hedonism seduces in the first case; orthodox religion in the second.  The Gnostic must defend against the wretched contentment of these modes and hold open his wounds of the spirit.  Malcontented with outward forms, he turns inward to his hidden spark.  The spark, trapped and stifled, faintly flares, repeating in each flicker the homeward call.

And, in speaking about Martin Heidegger’s(Hans Jonas’ teacher) book Being and Time, writes:

For Heidegger. the only hope for authenticity — a secular, psychological equivalent of gnosis — is anxiety.  Heideggerean angst, like Gnostic longing, performs a double function.  On the one hand, it constitutes the basic mood through which one comes to understand one’s own authenticity; on the other, it forms the aggravating condition from which one flees to the collective.  Heideggerean anxiety is directed toward the “nothing” of being in the world without the help of the mass.  This condition descends when all familiar ideas fall away and one feels as if one hovers in an unfamiliar abyss.  This unfocused floating can push the sufferer in one of two ways — either cravenly back to the lotus doses of the mass or courageously into possibilities for being.  If one chooses the former path, one can never return to the ignorant bliss of the collective but spends long days neurotically attempting to repress the unsettling sense that existence is a sham.  However, if one embraces the latter way, one undergoes an uncanny experience: insight into the relaionship between individual being and the Being of all beings.

Once one commits to understanding one’s connection to Being, one never rests but realizes that the profoundities of this origin are beyond comprehension.  However, one also knows that this perpetual insecurity will lead to deeper intimacy with the abyss and a greater care for individual being and other beings.  As we have seen, Heidegger in “What Is Metaphysis?” likens this chronic melancholia to a “bewildered sort of calm… a cheerfulness and gentleness of creative longing.”

That last section would seem to contradict the experience of horror.  There is an odd kind of optimism offered by this existentialist vision.  Thomas Ligotti, however, has a different take on this which offers no such optimism, but I’ll have to go into more detail about that in another blog.  I do have a possible explanation from another writer about what leads to horror.  In the Collapse journal in which Ligotti’s ideas can be found, there is an essay by George J. Sieg.  He argues that horror writing is the most self-referential, the most self-conscious of all the genres.  Whereas the typical spiritual aspirant is seeking to escape the self in one way or another, the experience of horror is a descent into the claustrophobia of the self. 

It isn’t accidental that horror stories often have a protagonist trying to understand or feeling compelled by curiosity.  Such a person feels unable or unwilling to simply accept the mystery.  There is some urge within that isn’t content with idling in the sunlight.  Let me give one element of Ligotti’s thought.  He writes of the spiritual and comes to a conclusion of the self that isn’t dissimilar to Eastern perspectives, but even so this offers no solace for him.  The average spiritual person embraces the mystery because they assume its somehow trustworthy.  It’s not that the vision of horror denies all goodness in any direct fashion.  Rather, the vision of horror simply offers no certainties at all… at its best it doesn’t even offer the certainty of evil in its orthodox meaning.

I should add that I’m not a big fan of horror as a general category.  However, I love anything with imagination which often includes horror and its cousin dark fantasy.  I’m somewhat of a fan of supernatural stories, whether the supernatural is overt or implied.  To me, I’m drawn to anything that touches me deeply and some horror writing is capable of this.  This element is hard to pin down.  I’ve read some Poe.  I enjoy his work, but I can’t say that it has a profound impact on me.  The best horror causes a mood that lingers for days or even weeks, and I’m not entirely sure why some fiction has this impact on me and other fiction doesn’t.  Along with Poe, my assessment might be similar for Thomas Ligotti.  Both are awesome writers, but somehow they don’t quite fully touch upon my emotional core.  However, my readings of both are limited and so my assessment could change with further reading.  Quentin S. Crisp may be more of my kind of writer, but I’d have to read more of him as well.

These writers (Poe, Ligotti, and Crisp) are mostly short story writers.  For whatever reason, short stories tend not to impact me in the way as a novel can.  The short story writer that gives me the clearest sense of profound horror is Kafka.  My friend is more of a reader of short stories and they seem to have more of an impact for him.  The three writers I’ve mentioned are some of his favorites.  It is important to note that many of the best horror writers tend towards short stories.  This is particularly true of metaphysical horror because it’s hard to sustain over a long narrative.  A key element of much metaphysical horror fiction is that it doesn’t confine itself to typical narrative structures.  Ligotti mentions that he is most interested in conveying the horror itself which transcends normal human experience, but he realized that a story needed a human protagonist to register that horror.  This attempt to get as close as possible to the experience of horror doesn’t lend itself to long involved narratives.  Partly, it would be difficult to accomplish.  But more importantly it would be too psychologically taxing on the average reader.  Metaphysical horror gains its potency by being imbibed in small doses.

As for novels, those that have formed my sense of horror are the following: Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ, Jerzy Kosiński’s The Painted Bird, Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly… and I might add Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolffor its dark existentialism.  None of these novels are normally considered horror, but they resonate with some dread insight about reality and human nature.  The only one of them that has any overt supernaturalism is The Last Temptation of Christ.  I like metaphysical horror, but maybe I seek more emphasis on the subjective experience than someone like Ligotti.  I need not only a protagonist to register the horror but I further need a protagonist that I identify with to such an extent that I lose myself in that character’s world.  Of these novels, the two that have haunted my psyche the most are Jude the Obscure and A Scanner Darkly.  A highschool English teacher had me read the former and I have never recovered since.  As for the latter, even though I’ve been familiar with the PKD’s work for many years, I only read A Scanner Darkly after having seen the movie version.  PKD is an uneven writer, but his psychological and metaphysical insight is second to none.  In this book, he convinces me of the reality of his character in a way few other books have done. 

A Scanner Darkly doesn’t end with an entirely tragic vision, but the descent into the dark is what makes it horrific.  It doesn’t matter whether or not a character loses himself entirely in madness.  The horror is the loss of all sense of safety and certainty, the realization that nothing will ever be the same again.  There is some kind of hope in A Scanner Darkly and that is very important.  Horror necessitates a tension.  Without hope, there can be no despair.  The horror isn’t the despair.  The horror is the descent from hope into despair.  I should explain hope because I’m using it in a broad sense.  I simply mean that the character is seeking some positive end.  In horror, this can be a desire to understand the supernatural or a desire for wealth or even a desire to maintain comforting normalcy.  In slasher horror, the tension is often between pleasure and pain.  The stereotypical slasher flick has teenagers partying and having sex right before they’re attacked, tortured and murdered.

Some writers want to get to the horror as quickly as possible.  They want to begin the story long after the character has already walked through the door.  However, the power of a novel is that it allows a sense of normalcy to be portrayed first.  This acts as the backdrop for the descent.  Without this backdrop, the descent often doesn’t have as much impact.  For example, Jude the Obscureis a very slow descent.  The story begins with Jude’s dreams as he sets off for the big city, and then over a very long book those dreams are dashed again and again and again… and again.  The descent is so slow that its almost tedious.  Interestingly, the character’s lack of self-awareness is what is so mesmerizing.  Jude just keeps mindlessly trudging on no matter what new obstacle presents itself.  So, how does this fit into Sieg’s theory of horror?  I’d say that Hardy still manages to create a claustrophobic sense of self by focusing so intensely on this one character.  Hardy isn’t trying to write horror, but his existentialism is so dark and dreary that it creates a horrific vision of life.

I’ll finish with one last point.  I’m a very spiritual person which might seem odd considering how cynical I can be.  I share much of Ligotti’s vision of life, but I get the sense that I may be more spiritual than he is in certain ways.  I may misunderstand Ligotti, but I get a sense that he is somehow content in his tragic vision.  I sense that he doesn’t feel there is anything to do about our predicament.  We’re just fucked.

I want to believe in something and this is core to my very sense of being.  Ligotti seems to dismiss this need to believe.  PKD, on the other hand, is more in line with my deeper sense of truth.  What makes A Scanner Darklyso tragic is that the protagonist is so inherently good in his intentions and so sincere in his desire to understand.  He is a light in a dark world and refuses to play by the rules of this world he finds himself thrown into.  So many horror stories are about loners, but PKD is as much interested in relationships.  Rather than nihilism or even idealistic existentialism, PKD portrays a gnostic vision.  We are trapped in a dark world, but maybe just maybe genuine truth can still be found.  This hope simultaneously acts as a light amidst the darkness and in contrast makes the dark appear even darker.

In case I mistakenly led anyone to think that I was saying Ligotti lacked deeper insight, I’ll leave you with a quote from his story “A Soft Voice Whispers Nothing”:

“’We should give thanks,’ the voice said to me, ‘that a poverty of knowledge has so narrowed our vision of things as to allow the possibility of feeling something about them. How could we find a pretext to react to anything if we understood… everything? None but an absent mind was ever victimized by the adventure of intense emotional feeling. And without the suspense that is generated by our benighted state–our status as beings possessed by our own bodies and the madness that goes along with them–who could take enough interest in the universal spectacle to bring forth even the feeblest yawn, let alone exhibit the more dramatic manifestations which lend such unwonted color to a world that is essentially composed of shades of gray upon a background of blackness. Hope and horror, to repeat merely two of the innumerable conditions dependent on a faulty insight, would be much the worse for an ultimate revelation that would expose their lack of necessity. At the other extreme, both our most dire and most exalted emotions are well served every time we take some ray of knowledge, isolate it from the spectrum of illumination, and then forget it completely. All our ecstasies, whether sacred or from the slime, depend on our refusal to be schooled in even the most superficial truths and our maddening will to follow the path of forgetfulness.’”