Monday October 19, 2020

I listened to an hour-long podcast on Welsh author Arthur Machen this afternoon, and not once was there mention of Machen’s membership in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. “An odd and unfortunate omission,” I think — though I concede that the podcast was otherwise quite informative. Why should it matter? Omissions of this sort are perhaps how the occult stays occult. I wonder, too, about Ishmael Reed, who includes Golden Dawn member Aleister Crowley’s The Book of Thoth in the multi-page “Partial Bibliography” at the end of his 1972 novel Mumbo Jumbo. Crowley’s book is a study of the Tarot. Reed mentions neither Crowley nor the Tarot elsewhere in Mumbo Jumbo. Yet The Book of Thoth — the mythic one, the one alleged to have been written by Thoth himself — is the “Text” sought by the warring secret societies in Reed’s novel. This is but one of many aspects of Mumbo Jumbo deserving further study. I wonder, too, for instance, about the novel’s critique of Sigmund Freud and the references to Freud’s protégé and rival, Carl Jung. Freud is said to have fainted on two occasions — and Jung was present both times. On the first occasion, Jung “spoke about being fascinated by some recent discoveries of ‘peat-bog corpses.'” Jung’s interest in the subject of mummies and corpses “got on Freud’s nerves,” causing the latter to faint in the midst of dinner. On the second occasion, Freud fainted during a discussion of a Karl Abraham paper, an Oedipal reading of the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten. (See Nausicaa Renner’s essay, “Freud Fainting.”) Reed focuses, though, not on the fainting but on Freud and Jung’s reactions to America. For Freud, the place was “a big mistake” — part of some monstrous “Black Tide of Mud.” Reed suggests that Freud was an Atonist. Jung, meanwhile, was more ambivalent about America. Like Freud, however, he viewed America as a place where Europeans would have to undergo a transformation to survive — a process Jung called “going Black” (Reed 209). Reed takes the additional step of celebrating this process, granting it agency and giving it the name “Jes Grew.”

Thursday December 21, 2017

Notes diminish slowly, like particles falling through space across brief durations. A friend’s voice, heavily masked, brings light. Does my focus increase or diminish when I convince myself that the object-world is no more than a single, alien form of consciousness: one, however, that will grant me the power to decode the messages it sends me, so long as I let it? And say this conviction were a fiction, however much the external world might seem to confirm it. Would that in any way lessen its therapeutic validity as an orientation toward being? Experience is often like a pull toward a hesitant positivity — until something terrible gets in the way. Let us turn our gaze toward the means of worship pioneered by Akhenaten. As if in reply, Alfred Bruneau performs Verdi’s “Requiem: Dies Irae & Tuba Mirum.”

How much do I wish to read into that? Is it wrong to think that Rochester has become a fun place to visit while stoned? Bars, bookstores, restaurants. Diverse neighborhoods. Homes and storefronts lit for the holidays. But I worry — albeit only in a distant, abstracted way — that I’ve become the kind of person who prefers to withdraw, to subtract from extended community with others. Perhaps this is the lesson one learns when visiting with family under capitalism. Dull, shiftless, emptied of concern: these are words I project preemptively into the thought bubbles of others. My sensitivity to a certain kind of anxiety leads me to imagine those around me acting the part of the killjoy, the spoilsport, the moralist. In thinking this, I grow cold, I go brittle. Morals are not the rules we invent by which to live; nor are they the rules we obey simply so as to attend to the cares of others. Rather, they’re the rules we follow for no reason other than that some part of us desires to uphold tradition — traditional biases, traditional prejudices — as lifestyle, as aesthetic. Thinking this strips me of volume and capacity. “Step back,” I say, ears awakened by fireworks. “Get up and try again.”