Source: American Book Review 33.6 http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/american_book_review/v033/33.6.butler.html
Leper Creativity: Cyclonopedia Symposium. Ed Keller, Nicola Masciandaro, and Eugene Thacker, eds. Punctum.http://punctumbooks.com. 310 pages; paper, $17.00; free PDF.
Who invited these people? Classically (and etymologically, too), a symposium involves drinking and good conversation. The model is Plato’s celebrated dialogue, in which the topic of love is on the table. Socrates’s sobriety tempers the mood somewhat, but Aristophanes’s riotous fantasy of primordial togetherness—conjoined human halves doing cartwheels across a mythical landscape—assures that good cheer predominates. Not so here. Ed Keller, Nicola Masciandaro, and Eugene Thacker have thrown a hellish get-together where gooey matter makes it all but impossible for Platonic forms to appear. Reza Negarestani’s pitch-black meditations on oil and the sublunary contingencies it incarnates provide the stuff of discourse and thought.
For the cyclonopediasts, the end of the world has already begun. Since the path between origin and extinction is not a straight line, Leper Creativity charts the irregular but certain course toward annihilation on various terrains. The proceedings do not unfold against a backdrop of what the Middle Ages, still preserving ancient philosophers’ faith in the world and its ways, called natura naturans. Rather, the whole universe seems to have collapsed upon itself. The primeval root of all things lies in the hostile matter that once was sun and light, but now lies thick and congealed in the stagnant, barren earth. Oil is fuel, but not sustenance—the organic turned enemy of life.
Accordingly, the matter of love is a sticky mess. Like so many transsexual Transylvanians, one pictures the symposiasts arriving on iron steeds that belch forth smoke and fire before dancing a theoretical “Time Warp.” The spectacle can be considered inviting and repellent in equal measure. Contributor Zach Blas offers an assessment of “queer openness” that, in his view, often seems as turgid and dull as the beefcake bonehead Rocky Horror. His salutary advice to celebrants of the rainbow is to embrace decay. The rectum is indeed a grave (Leo Bersani), and its heady perfume the immanent hereafter—the “no future” of the surprisingly alive death drive (Lee Edelman). Melanie Doherty, taking up Deleuze and Guattari, sharpens her teeth on the Oedipal fantasies that sustain the likes of Brad, Janet, and other squares enamored of triangular family romances. Discussing cosmic horror fiction, she remarks the corrosive power of the “radical outsider,” who “never appears as a discrete entity or individuated substance beyond vague indications of motion and fog.” It’s a monster, not a choice, and the choice is not ours to make. Love and other “symptoms of transmutation and madness” undo more than a happy couple can bring together.
To get the most from this gathering, the gentle reader is advised not to plunge headlong into the murk, but, like another amphibian dwelling between elements, to move back and forth between spots of (relative) stability and the puddles that bubble up from the deep around which the symposiasts assemble. In so doing, she or he can, without getting too messy, explore Robin Mackay’s reflections on geotrauma, Alisa Andrasek’s discussions of dust and detritus, and Ben Woodard’s investigation of how “onto-epistemological solidity” falls prey to decomposition. Occasionally, as in Kate Marshall’s contribution (“Cyclonopedia as Novel [A Meditation on Complicity as Inauthenticity]”), the question arises as to what exactly it means to immerse oneself in this “world without end.” Negarestani himself offers “Notes on the Figure of the Cyclone” in guise of a conclusion: the “meaninglessness of the free sign,” shooting across the horizon like a comet, is as close as we come to a final word.
One more example will indicate what lurks within the pages of Leper Creativity. “Gourmandized in the Abattoir of Openness” by editor and instigator Masciandaro pairs quotes from the “black metal” musician Xasthur and German mystic Meister Eckhart. The modern and the medieval voices are united by the view that death inhabits life. The “dark night of the soul,” as St. John of the Cross (1542–1591) put it, is the site where human existence, by embracing its nullity, discerns the prospect, however remote, of redemption and something more than what it is—and is not. The baroque-and-Barolo sensibility that Masciandaro and his fellow hosts exhibit is not unwelcoming, but it does involve acquired tastes. Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft are the evening’s sommeliers. As one might predict, canonical party animals like James Joyce, William S. Burroughs, and Kathy Acker feature prominently. But if they occasionally hog the bottle, the spirits keep flowing up from the cellar. It’s not difficult to see in the interstices of the text the presence of other writers whose profiles are generally less familiar. In particular, Otto Weininger, Victor Tausk, and Wilhelm Reich—rogue apprentices of psychoanalytic alchemy—seem to have contributed their theoretical concoctions to the off-kilter mood.
History, Karl Marx famously observed, first occurs as tragedy, then as farce. But what if—as is supposedly the case in a “postmodern” world—history never existed in the first place? What if the events that happen in the universe are simply spectacles to be viewed with earnest terror and pity or, alternately, with bemusement bordering on sinister delight? The latter, it seems, is the perspective adopted by most contributors to Leper Creativity, whose idea of a symposium owes more to Petronius, the first-century satirist of imperial Rome, than it does to philosophical idealism, ancient or modern. Another possibility is that the convivial bunch is raising its glasses to Pier Paolo Pasolini, whose unfinished novel Petrolio nods in a twentieth-century context to the decadence indicted and celebrated by Petronius; petroleum, after all, is the substance that Negarestani and his disciples pour at this version of the Last Supper.
No low-octane drinks are on offer at Leper Creativity, and the crowd can be rowdy. But it’s a party, not a program. A sense of moderation will assure you a little unwholesome fun during the end times that started millennia ago. Whatever it is, it’s (always already) happening, so you might as well try to figure it out for yourself. Plus, in the digital domain, the experience doesn’t cost anything. The universal truth of the apocalypse is that everyone—whether afflicted, anointed, or both—rides for free. Get with it, or get left behind.
Erik Butler is the author of The Bellum Grammaticale and the Rise of European Literature (2010), Metamorphoses of the Vampire in Literature and Film (2011), and The Rise of the Vampire (forthcoming), as well as numerous essays. He is also the translator of Atmosphere, Mood, Stimmung: On a Hidden Potential of Literature (2012) by Hans Gumbrecht