Critical Research on Religion

My essay “Pastoral Counter-Conducts” has appeared in the vital new journal Critical Research on Religion. It was wrangled by Roland Boer following his Newcastle conference on Theology and Treason and includes essays on Schmitt, Badiou, Christian materialism and the emerging church.

To think both that you will never die, and you could die any minute? On the surface once, burrowed deep now.

Apocalypse of St John The Dragon with the Seven Heads Dürer

To thus put everything off until some illusory time, while every moment is harried and judged? Fuck that shit of a brainworm.

6-apocalypse J B Wright

I will die. One day later. So I will work out how to live now.

BC_ART

They should have taught me about the world not ending.

Thusly does Fritz Eichenberg introduce his collection of “Fables with a Twist”, the text and intricate woodcuts of which the zoöeschatological disputants pore over with rapt imagination. In the titular tale a meeting of the animals fumes over human oppression and envisions the placement of Homo sapiens on their coat-of-arms. The fall is rewitnessed, the Ark is regretted, power plays out, man is mourned, apocalypses are left behind, the peaceable kingdom is yearned for and mocked, and olden fables are given modern twists which don’t avoid but intensify their morals. “Headlines proclaim: Exploded populations—oceans polluted—wars and genocide—animal kingdom threatened with extinction. … The Lord made a mistake!” (Endangered Species, p. 96) Let us rehabilitate the fabular.

And the waters prevailed

November 23, 2011

Shit’s been turned up to 11 for a while now.

Wonder what happens at 12.

“the tableau of a world after animality, after a sort of holocaust, a world from which animality, at first present to man, would have one day disappeared: destroyed or annihilated by man …” Thus does Derrida diagnose being without the animal as the deathly real production of a Cartesian methodological fiction. The great zoöeschatological disputation pauses in sombre silence.

Sceptics, repent!

February 4, 2011

Recent sightings of a UFO over the Temple Mount prove that angælien principalities are hurrying the apocalypse.

Clearly, as I predicted on page 26 of my manifestophecy, the time approaches when the New Jerusalem shall descend upon Area 51. Who among us will be prepared for the second coming of Homo Coelestis?

The Apex anthology Dark Faith, edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon, collects almost 400 pages of religion-themed horror, both short fiction and poetry. Broaddus writes in his introduction that “we all believe in something”, signalling the wide ambit given here to the idea of faith. As is common with such themed anthologies,  such an extensive range risks producing some unevenness and superfluous material. But conceding the inevitable weak spots, there is compelling work here that keenly explores both specific faiths and faith as such.

Dark Faith begins at the US’s most prominent sacred site, with falling spectres locked into their desperate escape from the burning twin towers. The repetition of this traumatic event is haunting, but by approaching such ghosts supernaturally (rather than through the mediatised images that in fact captured them for the melancholic archive), this story itself becomes hollowed and spectral. More religious violence against tyrannical power follows, whether the revenge is attempted in this world, at the end of days, or in the afterlife. There are ineffective or misdirected militant attacks on God and pacifist refusals of his judgment and reach. Of course the messiah, when he comes, is rarely what we expected: instead we share a smoke with a decrepit “Jeezy” grown bored with heaven, or we wait for an Elijah with too many glasses of wine under his belt. Come, Lord? On second thought, maybe not.

The antho takes a step up a quarter of the way in with Nick Mamatas’s “The Last Words of Dutch Schultz Jesus Christ,” which mediates the divine through biology and spectacle. The God Film with its infinity of reds produces mystical experiences in a group of students-cum-experimental subjects. The resulting campus cult makes an extreme neurotheological sport of their improvised attempts to encounter God. Then Mamatas shows us the film, beginning the intertextual play with the Burroughs novel struck through in the story’s title. He straps us in to gaze at red, as if he is trying to induce a noumenal experience in the reader, and he damn near triggers it, too.

The book delivers a mixture of such encounters with the absolute, down through the chain of being from the celestial and demonic to the earthly and animal. In Richard Dansky’s story, the sovereign Other with its regal, alien intelligence is found in the mad eyes of a heron. Characters struggle at the whim of capricious, otherworldly forces, suffering, degenerating, giving birth, losing themselves. They face the inhuman; sometimes they become it. Matt Cardin’s “Chimeras & Grotesqueries” describes, in a refined yet detached voice, the “perpetual solitude and miniature demiurgic activities” (113) of a grotesque derelict taken to fashioning monstrous figures from flotsam, amid the mass hysteria of a decaying urban milieu. Again, the religious sublime must broach the biophysical substrate—worming its way into the brain and the gut—with broken, finite creatures and worlds set askew by the touch of the transcendent.

As might be expected, there are plenty of apocalypses, some all too familiar but others less so. In Catherynne M. Valente’s “The Days of Flaming Motorcyles” the narrator is able to take the end of the world in her stride—after all, as she insists on not a few occasions, there is a marked continuity between the disaster and the world she once knew, from late capitalist urban decay to ordinary, instinctive, familial violence. This undecidably angelic or viral outbreak, rather than devolving into primitive survival, settles into a reflective way of life from where she can watch the unsettlingly sensitive zombies contrive their own solution to the pain of existence and the loss of community. It is a pragmatically hopeful story about ritual and making do amid catastrophe.

Not all the stories are as innovative or well-executed. A trio about creativity and death or sex, as well as a pair about grief and immobility, detract from the thematic integrity of the volume. Some of the writing approaches the tedious, and some of the (anti-)spirituality verges on the adolescent and preachy. There is much in the familiar glut of carnage that is about as subversive as a metalhead preacher’s son. Yet where the theme of dark faith is actively explored—check the Bible, or a newspaper, if these terms seem incongruous—avenues open up for truly interesting speculation. Character studies from the perspective of final judgment offer insights into the ever theological notion of the self. The enumerated paragraphs of Brian Keene’s “I Sing a New Psalm” add up and take away the parts of a life and then weigh the remainder against the absolute (with predictable consequences). In Douglas F. Warrick’s story, a life recounted through the tortures of hell is gradually eluded via zen, with pain, rage, grief, sorrow, all the wounds of a named, known and evaluated soul dissolving into asubjective nothingness. Perhaps most often, we are faced with religion as war and destruction. There are priests and patriarchs, moralists and authorities, getting their just desserts—or sometimes not, however deserved. Indeed, too often the relatively innocent reap the wages of others’ sins. In this volume, the unjust agonies of a damaged world are  exposed, refused, scorned and mourned with unrepentant regularity.

The anthology closes with Gary A. Braunbeck’s “For My Next Trick I’ll Need A Volunteer,” an ambitious piece of cosmic noir filled (at points overstuffed) with rambling banter between a detective and a priest. Like so many of the previous stories, it confronts the existence of excessive suffering, searching for some minor redemption in a godless, entropic multiverse. Its solution is hardly agreeable: apart from one brief moment of soon-forgotten empathy, it is apolitical, moralistic, and enthusiastically vengeful, with one character opining that “Evil is a human matter, fashioned by ignorance, brutality, addiction, emotional trauma—the list is endless.” (371) Yet what reconciliation of pain with the good would satisfy? The volume canvasses many strains of misotheism—the omnibenevolence of God being quite plainly bogus, even if his existence isn’t—with practical solutions to the problem of evil ranging from deicide to multiple homicide. Yet sometimes nonviolent escapes from the cycle of blame and retribution are sought and even found, as in Valente’s utopian rituals, Warrick’s enlightenment, Lucy A. Snyder’s mutinous truth or the anthology’s numerous moments of dark and absurd humour. We are shown a range of faiths and gods, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, and pagan, totalitarian and childlike, fierce and fickle, inept and feeble. If little ultimately holds them together, the regular flashes of suffering and defiance, futility and hope, do witness to the everyday persistence of vital religious instincts.

“The so nice and exact Adjustments of the Motions of both the Comet and the Earth; that the former should pass just so near, and impart such a certain Quantity of Waters, neither more nor less than would drown the World, and just cover the highest Mountain, and yet reach no father; in short, as would secure the Ark for future Generations, and yet not leave one dry-Land Animal besides alive; this Exactness is a most peculiar and strange Effect of the most wise and sagacious Providence of God in this mighty Revolution. …  That exactly at a time which was fit and proper, and in an Age that justly deserv’d so great a Judgment, the Comet should come by, and overwhelm the World, is very remarkably and extraordinarily the Finger of God himself. That Omnisicient Being, who foresaw when the Degeneracy of human Nature would be arriv’d at an insufferable Degree of Wickedness, the Iniquities of the World wou’d be compleatly full; and when consequently his Vengeance ought to fall upon them; predisposed and preadapted the Orbits and Motions of both the Comet and the Earth, so that at that very Time, and only at that very Time, the former should pass close by the latter, and bring that dreadful Punishment upon them. Had not God Almightly on purpose thus adjusted the Moments and Courses of each, ’twere infinite odds that such a Conjunction and Coincidence of a Comet and a Planet, would never have happen’d during the whole Space, between the Creation and the Conflagration of this World; much more at such a critical Point of Time when Mankind, by their unparallel’d Wickedness were deserving of, and only dispos’d for this unparallel’d Vengeance, no less than almost an utter Extinction.”

William Whiston, A New Theory of the Earth, From its Original, to the Consummation of all Things. Wherein The Creation of the World in Six Days, The Universal Deluge, And the General Conflagration, As laid down in the Holy Scriptures, Are shown to be perfectly Agreeable to Reason and Philosophy (1696), pp. 433-434.

My extraterrestrial end times burlesque The Angælien Apocalypse can now be pre-ordered from Twelfth Planet Press.

It is paired with Thoraiya Dyer‘s piratical novella The Company Articles of Edward Teach, for which she has concocted this specky trailer:

I’d whip up my own, except industrial metalheads JWAA seem to have inadvertently done it for me. Let us bang our heads in prayer!

Good time, close shave

October 14, 2010

I was lucky enough to visit Edmonton last week for a workshop on the philosophy of the nonhuman from Asian and Continental perspectives. I got to hear and discuss work on topics from Spinoza to the Mahabharata, whales to the Kali Yuga, behaviourism to Bataille. That is, I went to heaven for a couple days.  My own paper was on conservationists’ use of the overkill hypothesis of Pleistocene megafauna extinction. Without going overboard and solving too many of the world’s problems, we appear to have managed some discussion amid our conversations.

It was a well-timed hit and run squeezed between Avatar director James Cameron’s industry-embedded visit to moderate his opinion of the Albertan oil sands, and the zombie outbreak that soon followed. Somehow I managed not to be infected by either. I’m intrigued as to the original vector of this epidemic that I assume has by now swept the entire nation. Was it the vengeance of nature against its oil-hungry despoilation? Perhaps some First Nations curse straight out of a bad Hollywood movie? Or rather was it the result of their contact with the king of the consumable spectacle world and his neocolonial conservationism?

I will have to leave the citizens of Edmonton to decipher the cause of their zombification. Though perhaps the rest of us ought to at least monitor their dilemma from a safe distance. There seems to be something at stake in mediating this undecidable.

“Nothing only nite for years on end. Playgs kilt peopl off and naminals nor there wernt nothing growit in the groun. Man and woman starveling in the blackness looking for the dog to eat it and the dog out looking to eat them the same.” (Riddley Walker, p. 19)

Thusly is the great zoöeschatological disputation of Wells and Carter’s professors interrupted by Hoban’s tel woman, Lorna Elswint, in the story “Why the Dog Won’t Show Its Eyes.” This joyful barking species may have domesticated us over tens of thousands of years, but after the Trubba it’s a matter of survival, with “man and his dog” co-devolving, trying wild once more.

Run for your lives…

September 15, 2010

The dispensationalists are coming!

We were on the campus of a large university talking with some students in the comfortable lounge of one of the dormitories when we noticed a very attractive girl hesitate in the doorway. She stood for a few moments, her eyes glancing vacantly around the room, and then darted out as if she were being chased by demons. “What on earth do you think was wrong with her?” I asked my companions.

“Probably her vibrations were wrong,” answered one young man. “She might have thought there was someone or something in here that was a threat. Who knows?”

Vibrations, spirits, stars, prophets – what an absorbing interest we have today in the unknown, the unseen and the future.

In our imaginations we long to step out of our humdrum existence and into worlds beyond. Take science fiction as an example. It fascinates us. We read books from the serious to the comic about men with miraculous powers of vision or perception. We sit with fascination before our television sets as we are transported out of the present and into the tomorrows.

–Hal Lindsey, The Late, Great Planet Earth (1970), pp. 16-17.

Vibrations, demons, creepy old men ogling, oops sorry I mean evangelising college students… Call it what you will, this girl’s the smartest character in Lindsey’s entire xenophobic, apocalyptic, ghostwritten oeuvre.

Speaking of being transported into tomorrow – welcome to the future, Hal! The world hasn’t ended yet, I’m sure you’ll be disappointed to know. But it won’t be long; the Earth is dying, we’re ruled by untouchable principalities, and people watch SF on TV! What else is there? Europe has united, there’s wars and earthquakes in far off places, and, um, oh yeah the Jihadi scourge is threatening our freedoms! Well, yours anyway. Maybe you should stay put there in the Cold War, when things were a lot more decipherable. Dang, too late – you’re already here, denouncing your all too charismatic antichrist of a president! Well, good to see you’re making the most of it.

How much are you making, incidentally?

May you never get your life back.

“In those days, Marianne, people kept wild beasts such as lions and tigers in cages and looked at them for information. Who would have thought they would take to our climate so kindly, when the fire came and let them out?” (Heroes and Villians, p. 9)

Thusly does Carter’s Professor of History counter Wells’s wooden-headed Prof in the great zoöeschatological disputation.

Who would have thought, indeed.

Perhaps enough will survive to take kindly to our posthuman remains. It seems the apocalypse must come before the rewilding.