Absurdism: As Above, So Below?



Excerpt from Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities:

"In Eudoxia, which spreads both upward and down, with winding alleys, steps, dead ends, hovels, a carpet is preserved in which you can observe the city's true form. At first sight nothing seems to resemble Eudoxia less than the design of that carpet, laid out in symmetrical motives whose patterns are repeated along straight and circular lines, interwoven with brilliantly colored spires, in a repetition that can be followed throughout the whole woof. But if you pause and examine it carefully, you become convinced that each place in the carpet corresponds to a place in the city and all the things contained in the city are included in the design, arranged according their true relationship, which escapes your eye distracted by the bustle, the throngs, the shoving. All of Eudoxia's confusion, the mules' braying, the lampblack stains, the fish smell is what is evident in the incomplete perspective you grasp; but the carpet proves that there is a point from which the city shows its true proportions, the geometrical scheme implicit in its every, tiniest detail.

It is easy to get lost in Eudoxia: but when you concentrate and stare at the carpet, you recognize the street you were seeking in a crimson or indigo or magenta thread which, in a wide loop, brings you to the purple enclosure that is your real destination. Every inhabitant of Eudoxia compares the carpet's immobile order with his own image of the city, an anguish of his own, and each can find, concealed among the arabesques, an answer, the story of his life, the twists of fate.

An oracle was questioned about the mysterious bond between two objects so dissimilar as the carpet and the city. One of the two objects -- the oracle replied -- has the form the gods gave the starry sky and the orbits in which the worlds revolve; the other is an approximate reflection, like every human creation.

For some time the augurs had been sure that the carpet's harmonious pattern was of divine origin. The oracle was interpreted in this sense, arousing no controversy. But you could, similarly, come to the opposite conclusion: that the true map of the universe is the city of Eudoxia, just as it is, a stain that spreads out shapelessly, with crooked streets, houses that crumble one upon the other amid clouds of dust, fires, screams in the darkness."


I just found it to be an wise reminder by Calvino. We often think there's a Plan, an Order, and/or a Purpose to everything that is hidden from our eyes.

Yet it's just as possible Plans, Orders, and Purposes are things we project on to an unintelligible reality. That said, perhaps such a fundamentally discordant reality is exactly what we must have in order to have consciousness, freedom, personal meaning, all that good stuff....


“Only in chaos are we conceivable.”
― Roberto Bolaño, 2666

“For a moment the two of them looked at each other, wordless, as if they were asleep and their dreams had converged on common ground, a place where sound was alien.”
― Roberto Bolaño, 2666

“The truth is we never stop being children, terrible children covered in sores and knotty veins and tumors and age spots, but ultimately children, in other words we never stop clinging to life because we are life.”
― Roberto Bolaño, 2666


From Alpha Centauri:

Beware, you who seek first and final principles, for you are trampling the garden of an angry God and He awaits you just beyond the last theorem.
--Sister Miriam Godwinson, "But for the Grace of God"

And so we return again to the holy void. Some say this is simply our destiny, but I would have you remember always that the void exists, just as surely as you or I. Is nothingness any less a miracle than substance?
--Sister Miriam Godwinson, "We Must Dissent"



The Easiest Way to Live Life Fully Is to Follow Your Weird:


Erik Davis is an author, scholar and connoisseur of the weird. He's spent over 20 years exploring fringe movements, occult covens and liminal cyberspaces, finding some time in between to become one of the world's leading authorities on West Coast American counter-culture, writing about everything from California's alternative spiritual groups to Burning Man.

I recently spoke to him over Skype about psychedelics, conspiracy theories and "haunted technology".

VICE: Hi Erik. The phrase "follow your weird" has been associated with you. What do you mean by that?

Erik Davis: It's what I did instead of getting a normal job. I followed weirdness and wrote about it. The exploration of the unusual became a way of being. Most of the interesting people I've met did the same thing; characters like Terrence McKenna and Robert Anton Wilson – those guys were very good at following their weird

I was struck by the phrase one of you mentors used: "PhDs don't impress me; people who have confronted the void impress me." What impact did that kind of thinking have on your life?

When I heard that, something shifted inside. I realised that thinking, talking and reading fall short of encounters that go beyond ordinary thought. It's important to keep portals open to those experiences.


'and these innovations do not disturb your city's astral rhythm?' i asked.

'our city and the sky correspond so perfectly,' they answered, 'that any change in Andria involves some novelty among the stars.' the astronomers, after each change takes place in Andria, peer into their telescopes and report a nova's explosion, or a remote point in the firmament's change of color from orange to yellow, the expansion of a nebula, the bending of a spiral of the Milky Way. Each change implies a sequence of other changes, in Andria as among the stars: the city and the sky never remain the same.

as for the character of Andria's inhabitants, two virtues are worth mentioning: self-confidence and prudence. convinced that every innovation in the city influences the sky's pattern, before taking any decision they calculate the risks and advantages for themselves and for the city and for all worlds.'
-invisible cities by calvino


Ramble on the Real

Picture the following scene, a cartoon cliché. You’re standing on a darkened street corner at night. Suddenly an immense form appears on the brick wall ahead, a terrible, monstrous shadow cast by something coming around the corner. When the creature casting the shadow finally appears, it turns out to be an inoffensive kitten. The whole thing was a trick of the light.

Now, according to our conventional way of seeing things, the part of the scene where “truth" is revealed is the moment when the kitten shows itself. It’s at that point that you realize that the monstrous shadow was an illusion, that what was actually coming towards you was in fact the most mundane, benign, and knowable of God’s creatures. Yet if we entertain the concept of the Real I’ve just outlined, things change. The moment you were closest to “truth” — the moment you were most in touch with the Real — was in the interval during which you did not know what you were looking at. For then the monstrous shadow pointed you to a zone of potentiality with which you are not familiar, an open space between the little world you think you know and the big, real, unknowable world. What I mean to say here is that it is in moments of uncertainty, when we don’t know what we’re looking at, that we are epistemologically aligned with the true nature of existence.
Speaking of "following the weird", sometimes shifts in the "normal" happen but aren't noticed until centuries later.

F. Edward Cranz, "Preliminary Remarks" addressed to this colleagues at Connecticut College, 20 April 1985, pp2a-3:

"There was a general reorientation of the categories of though c.1100AD...[t]hree major changes may be noted. Against the ancient position, in the Aristotelian and Neoplatonist traditions, in which sensation and intellection lead to conjunction and union with what was sensed or intellected, we find a dichotomy between the mind and what is outside it, between meanings and things. Against an ancient position with what he called an extensive self, a self open to the world around it, we find a move to an intensive self, a universe of meanings separated by a dichotomy from the world of things. Finally, against an ancient reason which is primarily a vision of what is, we find a movement to a reason based on the systematic coherence of what is said or thought. And these three changes are part of a larger shift which is more general. In the modern constellation, these three phases are held together in the experience of what we call 'language'; if there is an ancient analogue, it might be Aristotle's statement that "The soul is somehow all beings"..."


The Vicinity of the Real (Tarkovsky’s Stalker)

"More fundamentally, the Zone is the Grail Kingdom from the Arthurian romances and Wagner’s Parsifal: a beautiful but strangely timeless and desolate place, where time itself seems to slow down in the vicinity of the traumatic yet life-giving miracle at its center. The Zone is the waste land created by the Grail King’s curse, like the “bradychronality” near a black hole, where the ordinary rules do not apply. It is the realm on the edge, on the rim of the symbolic—you can see its broken wreckage around you, you can grip tight to the twisted rebar jutting from the shattered concrete—but it is not yet the Real. It is what lies between the Real and consensus reality, a trickster landscape of danger and possibility."

"Stalker is a permutation of the Robert Scheckley’s short story, “The Store of Worlds,” for one thing. An old man in a run-down shack on the edge of town peddles a drug that will take the user to a dimension where your deepest wishes are fulfilled. The main character, Mr. Wayne, hesitates upon first visiting the old man, and leaves saying he will consider the offer. Later he resolves to go back and take it, yet he continually hesitates, continually puts it off because the mundane demands of his work and family routine make him too busy. Eventually he wakes up in the old man’s shack, in a dismal postapocalyptic “real world,” and pays the old man everything he owns—just some scraps—satisfied that indeed the drug (which he did in fact take on that first visit) did as promised: The banal tedious reality of an ordinary life was actually what he wished for."

"....very uncontrollable emotion that tips over into its opposite or otherwise verges into perilous realms—an orgasm so intense it causes pain, a joke that makes us spit coke out our nose, a religious experience or UFO sighting that causes our friends and family to be embarrassed for us, a drug addiction that ruins our life, or an affection that is so extreme we keep it hidden (like sudden affection for a pet or a child that arouses tears)—this is enjoyment. Enjoyment is what it is all about, it is the meaning of life, it is the “only substance,” and it is “why there is something and not nothing.”

Actually, all these “different forms” of enjoyment—which you could also call by the Anglo-Saxon word bliss—are the same. It is only our attitude that determines whether enjoyment presents to us as fearsome, revolting, painful, or pleasurable. When we cling to the linear world of ego and desire, enjoyment materializes or manifests as threat. Žižek cites endless examples from horror cinema—the terrifying alien or undead “thing” that seems indestructible and threatens to destroy us is our enjoyment under its negative aspect of ego-destroyer. Suffering comes from ignorance about our enjoyment, misperceiving it from the vantage point of the ego and language."


HP Lovecraft’s ‘The Colour Out of Space’

Twice in the novella we are told that the monster is “just a color,” a phrase that, considering what this creature does to people and the land, seems so inappropriate as to make the atmosphere all the more sinister for it. In point of fact, no color is “just” a color; that is precisely the notion that the narrator of “The Colour Out of Space” is doing his best to suppress. As Jung observed, colors signal the most primal manifestationsof the archetypes in dreams and art, a truth well known to the alchemists who used color as a basic element of their system. The Tibetan Book of the Dead devotes many verses to the colors of the lights that fill the bardo realm where sentient beings wander after bodily death. In our own day, the neuropsychology of color is of prime interest to market scientists bent on developing the most efficient ways to influence consumers nonverbally. Accordingly, everything in Lovecraft’s story tells us that there is more to mere color than meets the eye, and that the arrival of colors alien to a natural environment represents changes that go beyond mere cosmetics.


JF Martel has some interesting responses on Kastrup's forum, not saying I agree but worth a look IMO:

Apologies for the length of some of my answers below. Even with these long ramblings, I don’t think I’m doing justice to your very relevant questions. This is all stuff that I’m actively working on right now. Lots of work to be done, with no promise of a payoff, literal or figurative, as per usual.

Do you come to this out of pure logic? I assume, looking at your poetic, intuitively inspired writings, that you base this on what you consider to be "an intuition"

I have no intuition or hunch about the ultimate nature of reality. However, my beliefs have obviously been inspired by certain experiences. These include an ayahuasca ceremony in which I took part in 2009, a series of encounters with what I can only refer to as daimonic entities, a few creative endeavours that seemed particularly revelatory, and of course, the many books, films, poems, musical compositions and artworks that have bowled me over over the years.

My deepest intuition has always been rather mundane, and 100% ethical: it’s that any negation of the finality of Nature all its (infinite) richness and complexity, ends up sapping the value of this world, this life. Sooner or later, you end up having to say that the protruding ribcages of the Ukrainian children starved under Stalin were not ribcages at all but only ripples in cosmic consciousness. I’m looking for a philosophy that affirms the absolute and final reality of our immediate experience, whatever that experience might be.

At their worst, metaphysical systems that argue for the necessary existence of a given entity amount to a kind of kitsch. Milan Kundera defined kitsch as “the absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and the figurative senses of the word." He went on: "kitsch excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable to human existence.” And the most unacceptable thing in the world, I think, is also the most obviously true. It is that there is no reason for anything being the way it is rather than some other way. In the principle of sufficient reason, without which such a thing as a Ground would never have occurred to anyone, reason has written a cheque it can’t cash. And it is reason itself that shows us this, through its failure to provide a basis for thinking that a Ground might be necessary. As Bernardo says in this white paper, “at some point we have to stop and say: at this level, naturesimply is.” The obvious logical retort here is: “Why atthislevel, orthat one?” If the perceiver can simply be, than why not the “content" of his perception? Intuition and logic need to dance together, and the minute logic intervenes in the search for a First Cause, it makes it rather plain that the intuiter must choose between a completely arbitrary necessary being (which is a contradiction in terms) and an infinite regress, which entails a universe as absurd as one that has no reason to exist in the first place.

My only question is - is it conceivable, in even the most remote way that intuition can be developed, that we don't necessarily have to hold to a modernist view that one person's intuition is as good as another's - and if this is the case, what would be the basis for assessing the quality of one's intuition?

Of course intuition can be developed. But intuition isn’t a guarantor of truth. An intuition will be valuable in one context and not in another. And always, you’ll need reason to dance along, as I’m sure you’ll agree. But if you’re asking me if I think a particular meditative practice can give you direct insight into the nature of all reality, my answer is that I don’t. It certainly gives you insight into your own mind, and that can be very useful, but it doesn’t give you a key to universal truth. And if you’re thinking, “That’s just your opinion,” well, it is. In my defence I can only say that my opinion isn’t totally uninformed.

JF - are you suggesting there's no metaphysical Ground or that the Ground of Being isn't a conscious entity?

I’m suggesting that there is no metaphysical Ground — no big-c Being — but only beings, to which I have no reason not to attribute the same intrinsic self-existence (hence “consciousness”) that I observe in myself.

Because Bernardo has suggested the latter as a possibility. There may be no need for the Ground to be God as usually thought of (some kind of benevolent entity).

As I mentioned at the end of our debate last summer, I would be able to get behind Bernardo’s central claims if I could disentangle the place of subjectivity in his system. I know he has said that Mind-at-Large isn't self-reflexive. I find that very interesting. I just don’t understand how one could start from the place he starts at, namely the observation that only subjective experience can be known to exist, and end up in a place where there is no self-reflexivity but a purely objective process that generates subjectivity via dissociation.

This being Bernardo’s forum, it seems only fair to belabour this point a bit:

My main problem with Bernardo’s argument is that he implies two ontological orders. On the one hand, the whole process begins when you graft existence onto experience, saying that since nothingneeds to be postulated outside experience, then "experienced-ness" and existence must be one and the same. But no sooner has he made this move than he observes that all experience—that is, all existence—implies an experiencer, which for its part does not need to be experienced. Now, considering that the only consciousness we know is our own personal consciousness (empirically speaking, even the experience of Brahman must occur to a person who lives it as such), this amounts, for me, to a kind of solipsismunless one extrapolates TWE beyond the confines of the subjective so that it becomes, if we’re to remain logical, an objective entity that simply exists without needing to be experienced. Once this has been done, however, the initial premise has been called into question. Because ifone thing, however ineffable, can exist without being experienced, then why not a gazillion things? Why not all the stuff whose self-existence I doubted in the first place?

I’m sure Bernardo would have a lot to say about this, and I would love to hear it.

I guess it seems possible to me that there's nothing to transcend toward, especially if the Ground itself isn't actually self-aware or if it doesn't possess a rational capable consciousness...though this would perhaps leave the question of how rationality works unsolved?

I do believe that there is plenty to transcend towards — only, I also believe that all transcendence is ontic, not ontological. If there are gods, then they are part of this universe, part of Nature. There is no limit to what Nature can generate. It could have hidden dimensions that are indistinguishable from heaven for all we know. Such a place would be a good destination to seek out. But to my mind, it would be still a destination within this universe, as contingent as everything else in it.

What I'm getting at it whether you see a collection of separate brute facts, with no connecting Ground, as acceptable or whether you protest what we might call the "bonus features" of the Ground that people use to describe "God”.

I have no philosophical problem with belief in gods, angels, or deities of any kind. If things such as ourselves can come about for no reason, then why not immensely powerful beings? But I’m essentially an animist, and one thing animists tend to agree on is that the gods too are contingent.

Gods too are born and die.

I'd love to hear your answer to Sciborg, with an added note on whether or not you feel it's ok to assert this based on the fact that (a) it just feels right; (b) you have a clear, logical reason for proving this to be the case; or (c) you accept there might be a possibility of direct knowledge of such a thing (Just to be a tad provocative, my sense is as much as you seem to be following out path (b); it seems to me you're relying more on (a). I'd be utterly delighted to discover I'm wrong about this….

I hope the above suggests that this is more than a hunch. I assure you that it doesn’t "feel right” at all. In fact it’s a bit frightening. But its dreadful character seems inevitable if we’re going to "believe again in this world,” as Deleuze implored us to do.


I just found it to be an wise reminder by Calvino. We often think there's a Plan, an Order, and/or a Purpose to everything that is hidden from our eyes.

Yet it's just as possible Plans, Orders, and Purposes are things we project on to an unintelligible reality. That said, perhaps such a fundamentally discordant reality is exactly what we must have in order to have consciousness, freedom, personal meaning, all that good stuff....
From the Simcah blog:

Logos, Abyss, and Spirit

One concept to come out of my exploration of the Trickster which I will expound upon here is the conceptual Trinity of the Logos, Abyss, and Spirit.

Who are we? Why are we here? What are we going to do about it? (Or as Alan Watts would say: Who started it? Who’s going to finish it? Is it serious? And who’s going to clean up?) These are the fundamental questions at the root of all human exploratory endeavors. Scientists are searching for the great TOE (Theory Of Everything) – one theory to rule them all – one fundamental supreme model of reality from which everything else can be derived. We want to boil reality down to simpler and simpler more fundamental terms to find the root of the core of the essence of the kernel of the source of the atom of being. Let’s pretend for a moment that we can do this and that all reality boils down to just three concepts: Logos, Abyss, and Spirit.
Likewise ALL words are mental boundaries drawn around parts of the Whole. Since the independent existence of the parts makes no sense without reference to the rest of the Whole, these boundaries would appear to be merely mental creations and illusory. But if all boundaries and the words that represent them are illusory and merely mental, why are we able to break reality down into these mentally defined parts, stitch them back together with logic, and thereby create logical models of reality that seem to match up so well with empirical reality? It must be that reality itself is a construct of mentally defined boundaries and spaces which I am calling the Logos.

Logic is a comparison of mentally defined boundaries and spaces to expose a relationship or pattern between them. The most primitive form or relationship is ratio from which we get “rational”. So the rational aspect of reality is the Logos. For example, imagine two points. In Euclidian geometry, these points define a line. Place a third point on the line and you have a ratio which is a comparison of the spaces defined by the boundaries (points). Without the third point the distance between two points is undefined. It could be considered infinitely large or it could be considered infinitely small. All distances are ratios comparing two bounded spaces, so ratios form the basis of rational logical structured existence.
Science employs logic and rationality to explore and model the patterns of the Logos. It can only explore the Logos, but is necessarily blind to the Abyss. Any phenomena that does not conform to rational patterns cannot be explored by science because science requires testability and repeatability. Where there is no pattern, there can be no science. Science is the expansion of knowledge enlarging the bubble of Logos within the infinite void of the Abyss to which science is completely blind. Science is therefore in the business of infinite demystification. It does not matter that this process could be infinite because the process of discovery is in itself its own reward to the curious spirit.

A problem occurs in our adjustment to reality when we forget that the Abyss exists and are led by Science and its efforts at demystification to believe the Universe is entirely logical and that we are approaching the end of all mystery. There is no end to the bottomless pit and there is no top to the heavens.

We are reminded of this reality of the Logos floating in the Abyss in various ways. Men once thought the ground to be solid, but eventually discovered this solid ground floats on fiery magma. The Earth was once thought to be a solid flat entity supported by pillars (or the backs of Turtles), but it was discovered the Earth is a globe floating in the void of space. Matter was once thought to be solid, but it has been discovered that matter is made of smaller and smaller bits of matter until it appears to be more of a collection of thoughts or information rather than physical billiard balls of substance.
As we have seen, all logical structures are created upon axioms or primitive notions which are accepted to be true by faith. The logical structure within which we find ourselves enmeshed and which we call objective reality is in fact floating upon the Abyss supported only by faith. It should then theoretically be possible for an individual mind to alter one’s faith and step out of this logical bubble of reality and float upon the Abyss. In fact, the existence of the Abyss means that literally anything is possible. The very next instant could see the demise and recreation of the entire universe. There is literally nothing that says the universe must continue its logical progression one second longer save the collective faith of the Logos.

We also find the imagery of “floating” upon the Abyss in Genesis 1. Elohim creates the heavens and the earth, but the earth was “void” and “darkness was on the surface of the deep (Abyss)”. The Spirit of Elohim moved on the waters and this movement was the first act of creation from which light and everything else sprang into existence. Movement or Spirit is thus the third conceptual component of this Trinity.
Spirit means wind or breath. It implies invisible motion and e-motion. It is the animating life force. “And Elohim breathed into his nostrils and the man became a living being.” Motion implies change. As some have said, “the only thing constant is change.” Everything in all existence is in motion. Even the ancient hills and mountains are in the midst of a dramatic progression. When the rate of change is small, conceptual identities can be formed. You consider yourself to be the same person from one day to the next despite your gradual changes because your changes are so gradual they are hardly noticed, so you have formed for yourself an identity or an ego. But this defined identity, like the whirlpool, is mentally constructed, has fuzzy edges, and makes no sense apart from its context within the Whole. So by playing with zoom level, one can have the perspective that individuated identity is illusory – one is nothing or everything or both at the same time; this is the root of mystical experience.
Many have noted that there is a fine line between creativity and insanity. Some of the most brilliant artists in art, literature, and music lead very dynamic and chaotic lives that sometimes end up going “off the deep end” (into the Abyss). This is because creativity itself is a delicate balance between structure and destruction, sanity and insanity, sense and non-sense, Logos and Abyss.

Throughout all ages and peoples there are warnings against the occult. Channeling unseen entities or dabbling in magic is dangerous because like Peter who sank when he got out of the boat, we can get lost and sink when we leave behind the structure of the Logos and dance a jig on the surface of the Abyss. There is always an element of danger to curiosity. Curiosity has led us to unleash the power of the Sun on Earth. But danger is part of this game. It is the risk of sinking that makes boating exciting. The Spirit of Adventure propels one along this boundary between the Logos and the Abyss and that is the Spirit of humanity and the Divine Spirit. It is dynamic movement, the Spirit of Life that treads upon the surface of the Abyss that keeps life fresh and new and exciting.


Otto on the Numinous

The Connection of the Numinous and the Gothic

Connection 1: "daemonic dread." "Daemonic dread" is the first stage in religious development. Primitive people misunderstood their experience of the mysterium tremendum or the dread inspired by the numinous, to which they were drawn by the fascinating power of the numinous. Otto explains, "The daemonic-divine object may appear to the mind an object of horror and dread, but at the same time it is no less something that allures with a potent charm, and the creature, who trembles before it, utterly cowed and cast down, has always at the same time the impulse to turn to it, nay even to make it somehow his own." Still, "daemonic dread" is a genuine religious experience and from it arose the gods and demons of later religions Otto regards the "dread of ghosts" as a "perversion, a sort of abortive offshoot" of "daemonic dread." Even after purer, more highly developed religions have evolved, the primitive "daemonic dread" may assert itself. Otto points for proof of this to the attraction of horror and "shudder" in ghost stories. The ghost attracts us because it is wholly Other, and as such "falls outside the limits of the ‘uncanny' and fills the mind with blank wonder and astonishment," which are responses to the numinous. Ghosts have another connection with the numinous; in the primitive experience, the feeling of the presence of ghosts produces the stupor which the wholly Other arouses.

Connection 2: other interpretations of the numinous. Other Gothic elements originate in the misapprehension of the numinous. The feeling of the numen as mysterious stimulates "the naive imagination, inciting it to expect miracles, to invent them, to ‘experience them,' recount them." Terrifying, baffling, and even astonishing natural events have inspired "daemonic dread," a response which transformed them into portents, prodigies, and portents. Demons and specters, in Otto's view, are not part of the true development of religious consciousness but "spurious fabrications of the fancy accompanying the numinous feeling." Nevertheless, these fabrications do serve a positive function, one which may operate in Gothic fiction; though feelings of horror and shudder at spectral hauntings are caricatures of authentic numinous emotions, they enable us to break through rationality to contact "feelings buried deep in religious consciousness."

Connection 3: the sublime. A counterpart to the numinous, the sublime provides another connection to Gothic fiction. Though Otto distinguishes the numinous and the sublime as separate categories, they have a close connection. Like the numinous, the sublime cannot be explicated, is mysterious, and is both daunting and intensely attracting. Because of these similarities, the sublime may stimulate the capacity to perceive the numinous, and there is a tendency for the sublime to pass over into the numinous and for the numinous to pass over into the sublime.

Otto explicitly connects the two categories; the sublime is the most effective, if indirect way of depicting the sublime in the arts. The eighteenth century Gothic novelists were aware of theories of the sublime; Edmund Burke's A Philosophical Inquiry into the Sublime and the Beautiful presented the most widely accepted theory. They incorpoated the sublime into their novelists. Radcliffe was famous for her landscapes, which were imbued with the sublime. Otto identifies portrayals of darkness and silence as a means of presenting the numinous; he stresses that the darkness must contrast with a flickering or dying light, the semidarkness creating a "mystical" effect. "The semi-darkness that glimmers in vaulted halls or beneath the branches of a lofty forest glade, strangely quickened and stirred by the mysterious play of half-lights has always spoken eloquently to the soul." And the Gothic novel abounds in these particular effects and similar ones over and over. For Otto, these effects expression the numinous in contrast to Burke, for whom they express the sublime.


Reality is Analog: Philosophizing with Stranger Things / Part One

Contains spoilers.

The Strange and the Weird
We say that something is strange when it defies reason, when we can’t find an explanation satisfying enough to stop wondering what it is. There are at least two ways in which this can happen. A thing can be strange in effect or strange in fact. In philosophical terms, the first kind of strangeness might be called epistemological, meaning that it has to do with how we perceive things; the second kind of strangeness might be called ontological, meaning that it has to do with the way things actually are at their inmost.

Epistemological strangeness arises when, though I can conceive of no rational explanation for the thing before me, I nevertheless maintain the belief that some explanation would obtain if I had more information. If cryptozoologists captured a Bigfoot and determined that it was an extremely rare bipedal ape, the whole Bigfoot phenomenon would prove to have been an instance of epistemological strangeness—strangeness in effect. In contrast, ontological strangeness arises when an event is unexplainable in principle because it defies rational explanation in an absolute sense. This is an inborn strangeness pointing us to the strangeness of reality itself at the fundamental level. Certain phenomena that particle physicists study seem to be ontologically strange. And according to the imaginal or “daimonic” interpretation of the Bigfoot phenomenon found in the work of John Keel and Patrick Harpur, ontological strangeness also defines the real Bigfoot, the one that forever eludes capture even though people have been seeing it for centuries in the wilderness of North America and will probably continue to do so for as long as there are forests for sheltering mysteries.1

In art and literature, absolute strangeness is called the Weird...


Reality is Analog: Philosophizing with Stranger Things / Part Two

Contains Spoilers

Digital Affects
More than for its supernatural content, Stranger Things has garnered attention for its intoxicating re-creation of the 1980s childhood, with its roleplaying games, homemade mix tapes, and unsupervised night journeys on banana-seat bikes. As someone born in 1977, I found this to be the most infectious quality of the show. It got me thinking about what it was like to live in a time when PCs, mobile phones, and tablets weren’t around, and when electronic screens, while venerated in the form of those stacks of TVs that graced the front window of appliance stores, weren’t so present as to be deemed ubiquitous.

The Canadian indie rock band Arcade Fire recorded a song on this subject called “We Used to Wait.” It describes the era “before the flashing light settled deep” in our brains, when time seemed to stretch out to infinity.

"Now it seems strange
How we used to wait for letters to arrive
But what’s stranger still
Is how something so small can keep you alive.1"

Strange indeed...



My dear,

In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love.
In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile.
In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm.
I realized, through it all, that…
In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.

And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.

Truly yours,

Albert Camus


How Camus and Sartre split up over the question of how to be free

They were gleaming icons of the era. Newspapers reported on their daily movements: Sartre holed up at Les Deux Magots, Camus the peripatetic of Paris. As the city began to rebuild, Sartre and Camus gave voice to the mood of the day. Europe had been immolated, but the ashes left by war created the space to imagine a new world. Readers looked to Sartre and Camus to articulate what that new world might look like. ‘We were,’ remembered the fellow philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, ‘to provide the postwar era with its ideology.’

It came in the form of existentialism. Sartre, Camus and their intellectual companions rejected religion, staged new and unnerving plays, challenged readers to live authentically, and wrote about the absurdity of the world – a world without purpose and without value. ‘[There are] only stones, flesh, stars, and those truths the hand can touch,’ Camus wrote. We must choose to live in this world and to project our own meaning and value onto it in order to make sense of it. This means that people are free and burdened by it, since with freedom there is a terrible, even debilitating, responsibility to live and act authentically...
...The violence of communism sent Camus on a different trajectory. ‘Finally,’ he wrote in The Rebel, ‘I choose freedom. For even if justice is not realised, freedom maintains the power of protest against injustice and keeps communication open.’ From the other side of the Cold War, it is hard not to sympathise with Camus, and to wonder at the fervour with which Sartre remained a loyal communist. Camus’s embrace of sober political reality, of moral humility, of limits and fallible humanity, remains a message well-heeded today. Even the most venerable and worthy ideas need to be balanced against one another. Absolutism, and the impossible idealism it inspires, is a dangerous path forward – and the reason Europe lay in ashes, as Camus and Sartre struggled to envision a fairer and freer world.