A number of years ago, when I lived in Mountain View, California, I would listen to a local radio station which carried a show by David Emory. He’s a talkshow host with a calm, soothing voice and his show “For the Record” is a show which, at least at the time I listened to it, linked everything possible to Hitler. I’m going to just flat out quote wikipedia here:
“Emory frequently propounds the existence of an “Underground Reich” as a central feature of his broader theses. An entity which maintains the long-term interests of German-based multinational conglomerates, it includes heavy industry, chemicals, communications, as well as international shipping, banking and financial interests. Emory contends that the many units which make up the “Underground Reich,” having survived World War II, persist and flourish as major components of the current global capital elite.”
It’s not Emory’s political bent or his show that interested me, it was the singleminded nature of his conspiracy theories. Everything, in some way, went back to Hitler. Rolling into my driveway in my shitty Honda, I’d sit and wait for him to say something along the lines of “…you guessed it, HITLER” (not a phrase he actually used, but one I took delight into putting into his mouth) before getting out of the car and going about the rest of my evening.
Ravenna Hunter Hunt-Hendrix is a musician who’s band “Liturgy” started out releasing music she called “Transcendental Black Metal”– a kind of refutation of Black Metal’s misanthropy and hatred which still used its tools. “Aesthetica”, their second full length remains one of my favorite works. Hunt-Hendrix explained her theories in an at the time mocked work “Transcendental Black Metal: A Vision of Apocalyptic Humanism” (you can read it here, if desired– it was largely derided by the metal press as pretentious nonsense (you can read a little bit more about all that in this interview), but it is really the beginning of a long spanning, very intricate art/philosophy project– her music is a small part of it; and I’ll be fairly honest, I haven’t really followed it all (you don’t really need to in order to enjoy the music).
It is canyon deep– it seems to be, at its core, a kind of rewriting of Christianity with a Marxist bent, but that may not be accurate at all. She put it this way:
“…the idea is that Christianity gave birth to capitalism and that produced a new, different trinity, which was industry, science, and culture. To imagine a new mode of production beyond that, in this kind of, like, Marxist spirit would be to imagine a world that’s governed by music, drama, and philosophy as its ruling principle. The path towards that would be an attempt to pursue a practice with those things in combination, which is what I’m trying to do with Liturgy, and this philosophy and stuff. It doesn’t have to be done in my way.”
(Full interview, with additional context here)
If you read enough of it, or her liner notes, it becomes its own language, one of charts, one of neologisms and one of religion without religion. And it’s fairly significant, in my opinion, that she has read Reza Negarestani.
I wrote briefly about “Cyclonopedia : Complicity with Anonymous Materials”, but I’ll sum things up again. The book purports to be a series of papers revolving around the works of Dr. Hamid Parsani, an archeologist who, among other things, believes that the middle east as a whole is a living organism; as is oil. There’s a Lovecraftian sense to it all (and Negarestani references Lovecraft directly, along with the work of E. Elias Merhige, Claire Denis, John Carpenter, and, er, Jon Amiel), but it’s just that– a set of summaries, presented in a thick, academically styled manner. It reads like a doctoral thesis, albeit a fictional one. Negarestani blends real world works with fictional ones, real religions with imaginary ones, and real places with fictitious ones. (And one of the religions mentioned is Mithraism, which served to remind me that I read “The Recognitions” earlier in the year. Time is a flat circle.)
The idea of oil as a Lovecraftian monster, evil in that it is entirely indifferent to and outside of our own existence is certainly an interesting one. The trick that the book pulls is that, in the universe of the book, none of this is metaphor. Parsani genuinely sets out to prove that the Middle East is a living thing, with oil at its core. That the joining of the dust and the desert create this organism, and that the demons, angels, and myths of the area are all supporting evidence for this thesis.
My notes consist of a lot of observations– “dust as progenitor, dust as information. Dust’s relationship to wetness, flesh as a kind of corruption”, a few quotes– “war has a life of it’s own”, and concepts– “the earth’s ‘skin’ is schizophrenic”, but tying them all together is what the book *does*, and that’s where the meat of it lies. It also means that, for the first time, I can genuinely say the book doesn’t really have a plot. It has a brief frame which gets you to read the documents (and which is also referenced in footnotes), but the documents are not a narrative, they are their own language– one of diagrams, charts, neologisms, and a central, singular idea. They are Hunt-Hendrix and Emory, boiled into a kind of weird gumbo.
It’s convincing, but by the end, the trick wears a little thin– I began thinking about deliberate, willful misinterpretation; like writing an essay about how Brian Ferry’s song “Slave to Love” is somehow about slavery and not love, and how you could turn lines like ‘how the strong get weak/and the rich get poor’, throw in some other metaphors, add in some words like ‘praxis’ and ‘semiotics’ and zango you’ve got yourself something approaching the experience of reading this book. It’s sort of a fun exercise— how convincing can you make that argument?
I’m not of the belief that’s entirely what Negarestani is doing here; but honestly, I’m not convinced that he doesn’t engage in it from time to time. There’s a small section about the movie “The Core”, which, if you’ve never seen it, is a glorious b-lister treat. It literally features the element “unobtanium”, a scene in which the sun melts the Golden Gate bridge, and another scene in which lava melts Delroy Lindo.
Negarestani spends time unpacking the film’s use of the acronym DESTINI in a way that has me thinking this is some sort of jape; but by the time you’re that far along in the book, you’ve learned that none of the things in the book are japes, at least within the narrative. It’s hard for me to parse out if there’s room for jokes within the text. I’ve noted before that my understanding of contemporary philosophy is limited to broad, simple explanations, and it’s entirely possible Negarestani is making some point that I’m not getting.
I’m not second guessing myself, however, when I point out that the narrative spends a lot of time linking very disparate things via a convoluted set of linkages that at times feel almost schizophrenic in nature. And once you believe or understand one part of the framework, the rest falls into place. And that place is entirely in support of Parasani’s central thesis. It’s significant that the book ends with Parasani’s writings becoming an unintelligible sigil.
It’s a testament to the work that the ‘trick’ lasts for so long. And it’s also not a trick. It’s a world unto itself, and one that is fairly terrifying to contemplate– while the book has no plot, it has a place; it’s between the world we see and experience and what the world actually might be. And that what the world might be isn’t what we might want it to be at all. It’s cosmic horror, done in a way I have never seen, and it’s probably one of the most unique books I have read. If you’re willing to take the time, and let the wild synthesis carry you along, there’s an entire journey to be made. And it’s more serious than this little essay might lead you to believe.