Friday, July 06, 2007

Back with a Vengeance I: Intellectual Decompression Chamber

It has come to my attention that misunderstandings about what I was banging on about at the Weird Realism conference continue to abound. No doubt this matters to no-one else other than my curmudgeonly very own self; but some recent disparaging remarks about Lovecraftian magicians coming from within the academy has left me with a rather unpleasant taste in my mouth, hence the following tirade: that Leftist academics (in whose company I generally, but not exclusively, count myself) actually seem to have a great deal of trouble grappling with the materiality of human agents when said agents intervene into the otherwise tidy abstractions of theory (most of which, it seems to me, have become increasingly distant and disengaged from the political realities of everyday life). This probably explains why I became an anthropologist, being generally better at dealing with people than I am with theories...

I'm also incredibly frustrated by the impenetrable Lacanian pseudo-psychology that informs much of the current intellectual critique of capitalism. Which is not to say that said theories and approaches do not have their value, but in most cases academics are working with incredibly outmoded, unsupportable or folk- theories of the mind (usually some variant of the tabula rasa) that have been left far behind by current research in neuroscience, the cognitive sciences more generally and (the ever unpopular) evolutionary psychology. That said theories are still presented as having explanatory power without, it seems, actually being testable compounds the problem.

That aside, an accusation made against Chaos magicians' that their position on Lovecraft was politically 'unsound' was, in any case, a position I myself expressed (or so at least I thought!) at the Weird Realism conference. Not wanting to detract from what was an excellent day, I must say that I'm still somewhat flummoxed as to why a number of the discussants failed to realised this. Ultimately, though, there is no-one to blame but myself and my inability to communicate ideas clearly and succinctly. Also granted that the theme of my paper seemed somewhat out of alignment with what the conference was supposed to be about. In any case, there seemed no point in mounting a 'defence' of my comments as at least two of the more challenging questions they raised appeared to reiterate the very points I was trying to put across.

Claiming that Chaos magical co-options of Lovecraft is ineffectual and politically unsound also demonstrates, to my mind, a deep rooted fear of the magical (itself a reiteration of capitalism’s own rationalizing discourse) which also ignores the potential ‘radicalism’ of magic and religion. This brings to mind the anthropologist Peter Worsley who, employing a Marxist analysis, attempted to demonstrate that millenarian movements in colonized areas such as Polynesia and Africa were not simply the responses of an ‘irrational’ peoples to colonization, but laid the foundations for later more overtly ‘politicised’ independence movements.

Given that the capacity to generate magic, religion and overtly fictional fantasies may very well intimately interlinked via our cognitive evolution, one wonders why academics thus deem fantastic and weird fiction worthy of investigation. Magic and the literature of the weird and fantastic participate in a shared field of relations. Indeed, much of what passes as ‘theory’ partakes of the fantastic to such a degree that I would consider much of it a form of ‘magical thinking’! On a final accusatory note, I really don’t see how the theorizing of the Left in and of itself constitutes an effectual alternative to capitalism, especially when it has come to constitute (at least for Luddites like myself) a form of cultural capital indented in the elitism of its own obscurantism.

Even so, I'm also feeling rather quixotic this morning so will try to respond (yet again) to how Chaos magickal appropriations of Lovecraft can be potentially 'revolutionary': identification with 'alien otherness' - whether through the embodiment of possession or whether simply reading sci-fi - has the capacity to transform consciousness and raise awareness through the adoption of a different position or perspective. (In this respect, Lovecraftian magick might even be considered to be an occultural variant of standpoint theory). If this is any different to what most politically-engaged academics are trying to do (albeit not very effectively given the aforementioned obscurantism that has spread with viral-like intensity throughout academic discourse) then I don't know what is.

Something else I have decided to address here is the fascistic overtones of Chaos magick - a point raised on the day of the Weird Realism conference. This is, indeed, a point that I have myself raised on occasion. They are certainly there, although on this point the blame again lies squarely on myself in highlighting apparent links between Chaos magick and right-wing occultures (though in fact most Chaos magicians of my acquaintance seem to be more left-leaning). The whole issue was initially exacerbated by my statement that Chaos magick involves the imposition of one's will upon the cosmos. In actual fact, Chaos magical practices tend (at least in theory) to emphasise the attunement of one's 'will' with the universe. In this respect, the notion of 'will' closely follows that of Crowley's; and rather than magick being an act of violent imposition, it is concerned (again) with the transformation of awareness: namely, unbinding oneself from dualistic assumptions about the universe and instead recognising the permeability between one's microcosmic self and the macrocosm. Of course, as an atheist and materialst I hold all of this to be hogwash; even so, as I think Patricia MacCormack argued in her recent paper at Treadwell's, notions of permability, of flux, of amorphousness found within Chaos magick (and particularly in its engagement with the Lovecraftian demonic) offer an alternative to phallocentric hegemony (at which point I have, of course, rendered myself guilty of using the same obscurantisms for which I just admonished the rest of academia...)

Rant over (if, indeed, that made any sense whatsoever). I do of course welcome comments to this post, but following the example of Mr. Alberelli don’t be surprised if I’m not of a mind to respond to them...

1 comment:

  1. James Kneale9:13 AM

    Hi Justin - I agree with 99% of what you're saying here. But I suspect that that particular bunch at Goldsmiths' had even less idea than most academics about magick etc. It was Metro-level knowledge in fact; 'some of these people are fascists'; 'it's a manifestation of capitalism', give me strength. And where it's not entirely written off, tremendous condescension about the deluded fools who buy into this. Tchah! I was my hands of them and recommend you do too...