Thursday, 17 April 2014

A Response to Tim Pendry’s Review of The Treadwell’s Papers, Vols. I & II



By Guest Contributor - Stephen Alexander

[Editorial Introduction - I am honoured by Stephen Alexander's agreement to provide a response to a somewhat old (2010) review of his Treadwell's Papers. Although there are places where he encourages a further response, I think it more honourable just to let his opinion stand and let the reader come to a view. It has been unedited by me but I have added a factual note for clarification. To permit a personal note, I rather liked this riposte - it scored some hits.] 


Firstly, I’d like to thank you Tim both for the review and for affording me an opportunity to make a few comments in response.

Perhaps I may begin by providing a brief contextual history to the series of talks given at Treadwell’s in 2005 and 2006. Back then, Christina [1] was still making a concerted effort to appeal to a spectrum of people and not just occultists and those of an esoteric bent. Philosophers, poets and intellectual provocateurs from a wide range of backgrounds and with a broad range of interests were made welcome and whilst the shop always had the look of an enchanted grotto, it never felt like a magical ghetto
  
I had previously given a six-part series of papers at Treadwell’s in 2004, entitled ‘Visions of Excess’, which traced out a libidinally material tradition of philosophy running from Sade and Nietzsche to Bataille and Foucault. ‘Sex/Magic’ was, however, the first series written specifically for Treadwell’s and attempted, as you rightly say, to bridge the worlds of modern European philosophy and modern pagan witchcraft. I now recognise this project to be in vain: ultimately, philosophy (like science) only begins where all religious superstition and stupidity ends. However, at the time, I naively hoped that the interesting practice of witchcraft could be divorced from its untenable (and conservative) metaphysics and coupled to a more radical politics of desire.

It’s already apparent, I think, that by the time I came to give the ‘Thanatology’ series, just twelve months later, I had pretty much abandoned any hope of this and my own brand of literary-philosophical paganism (informed by D. H. Lawrence and Nietzsche) was being replaced with a more sceptical form of nihilism as my hostility towards those who sacrificed intellectual integrity on the altar of romantic religious fantasy intensified. Things reached a breaking point in 2008, when I gave my final six-part series of talks at the store entitled ‘Reflections beneath a Black Sun’. This not only effectively marked the end of my relationship with Treadwell’s, but also a decisive move away from my own youthful follies in the dangerous zone where politics meets paganism; i.e. half-a-dozen nails in the kind of thinking that can quickly become fascistic and lead to terror.
 
Having said this, I can now turn directly to your remarks and comment on one or two specific issues. Firstly, let me explain why D. H. Lawrence was so central to my thinking in The Treadwell’s Papers (and has remained an important reference and point of departure). For one thing, it needs to be understood that I am primarily a Lawrence scholar – and not a philosopher. So, for example, whilst my Ph. D. was on Nietzsche’s project of revaluation, it was nevertheless mediated via the poetry and prose of Lawrence.

Secondly, I still think that Lawrence forms the perfect point of interface not only between English literature and European philosophy (Deleuze describes him as one of the four great heirs to Spinoza – the other three being Nietzsche, Kafka and Artaud), but also between philosophically-informed literature and paganism. For Lawrence was a profoundly religious writer familiar with occult works by the likes of Mme. Blavatsky, James Pryce, and Frederick Carter.
  
Thirdly, my thinking at the time was that more of the Treadwell’s audience might be familiar with Lawrence’s work (or able to get hold of it from the library or in cheap Penguin editions) than they would be familiar with works by Heidegger or Deleuze (available only in more expensive academic editions). Indeed, Christina stocked many of Lawrence’s books at Treadwell’s, as she was herself a great Lawrence devotee.
 
Looking back, there was doubtless an overreliance on Lawrence and the reading I gave of him was far too generous and uncritical. Ironically, these days some members of the Lawrence Society regard me as a renegade or traitor.

As to your contention that ‘Sex/Magic’ was far superior to ‘Thanatology’, I’m not sure I’d agree with that, but, yes, maybe you’re right: this is just a matter of preference really. I certainly don’t think the latter series lacks the intellectual vigour or interest of the former, though it is rather different in tone and subject. That said, an argument could be made that all the papers presented at Treadwell’s are attempting to do the same thing; namely, deconstruct metaphysical dualism and the binaries it erects.

Thus, in ‘Sex/Magic’, I was trying to dissolve gender distinctions (as well as genre distinctions). In ‘Thanatology’, on the other hand, I was more interested in interrogating the categorical distinction made between life and death (arguing that the former is only a rare and unusual form of the latter). In the ‘Zoophilia’ series that followed in 2007 – the most successful series I think, certainly the one I enjoyed writing and presenting the most – the goal was to dissolve the distinction between human and animal.

This remains, it seems to me, a crucial project; but one which very few of the Treadwellsians dared to take seriously or carry forward. You say I was a bit cruel on them, but, actually, I was far too kind and generous and because I said things with a smile they mostly thought the work could be considered humourous (and that I was basically just a clown there to amuse them). When I did tighten and harden things up a bit all that happened was that people would shake their heads, wag their fingers, or leave and then email Christina demanding their money back. As one greatly offended early leaver told Christina: ‘The talks are neither about sex nor magic and the speaker is an idiot.’
 
It’s not a case of my wanting the people who come along to the talks to believe the things I tell them; it’s not even relevant to wonder whether I believe the stuff or not. I don’t believe in belief and sometimes I say things not because they are what I think, but so as not to have to think them any longer. Further – at all times – I insist on my right to be transpositional; that is to say, to move between ideas wilfully and whimsically, paradoxically and perversely. I don’t care about the spectre of logical consistency any more than I care about building consensus.

I’m not sure this betrays philosophical confusion, however, as you claim, or that it means I allow personal factors to dictate and determine what I say. I would be particularly disappointed if the latter were true, as I strive hard to eliminate all personal qualities and to effectively disappear within the text (to become-anonymous and clandestine).

Sorry you didn’t much like ‘Thanatology’. But, Tim, you’re a bit of a vitalist and full of a certain (I won’t say put on) joie de vivre so I don’t imagine topics such as suicide, deicide, and necrophilia will hold much appeal.

Too much Lawrence, you say, well, I’ve addressed (and conceded) this. Too assertive, you say, well, that’s an unusual criticism as often people complain I’m vague, ambiguous, and always slightly hesitant about saying anything (thus fond of using terms like ‘perhaps’ and ‘maybe’ to constantly qualify statements).

I don’t think the opening to ‘Thanatology’ – in which I simply presented the facts of life and death – was dark; or that we can (or should) move on from these facts. On the contrary, I very much think people should remind themselves of these on a daily basis and never seek any kind of false comfort in fantasies of a personal survival of death or immortality. Where, pray, have you moved on to? And do tell me where (and how) you imagine Nietzsche’s √úbermensch comes into this. I mention the overman as the one who can teach Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal recurrence in the final paper of the series; how exactly do I misuse or misunderstand things? I also develop a practice of joy in the fourth essay, so things aren’t really quite so bleak or joyless as you suggest.

If Heidegger’s thought of Dasein as a being-towards-death [Sein-zum-Tode] is also too dark for your tastes it’s hardly my fault. But again, I’d greatly appreciate it if you could indicate why my reading of this is so poor. It’s obviously somewhat compromised by the limitations of both paper and audience, but I don’t think it is bad (in terms of being mistaken) even if a bit banal.
 
You’re right to find the Aztec stuff disconcerting; particularly Bataille’s and Lawrence’s ‘sulphurous-politico-theological’ speculations to do with human sacrifice and the need for cruelty etc. I don’t, in fact, advocate Nazi neo-paganism or even Nietzschean Dionysianism, but, yes, I probably could have and should have offered more of an objection to this kind of thinking. In fact, this comes in volume IV of Book II of The Treadwell’s Papers – ‘Reflections beneath a Black Sun’ – which I mentioned earlier.

I agree (and it was Lawrence’s position post-Plumed Serpent) that there has to be more than merely sensational blood lust and a desire to palpitate to murder, suicide, and rape, for these things result at last only in complete inertia and a reactionary form of nihilism. Still, in order to better counter these things we need to understand them. Further, it’s important I think to show the pagan-minded where their romantic celebration of irrationalism and primitivism and noble savagery etc might lead them. It irritates me when they tell me about the ancient Egyptians, or Native Americans, and don’t also talk about female genital mutilation or a whole range of other forms of religious cruelty and cultural violence.
   
Moving on ... I know that the actual dead do not actually resurrect. I was clearly talking about ‘symbolic’ death and resurrection in the final paper (virtual, but nonetheless real). Obviously, I’m performing a philosophical reading of novels and poems – but not sure I share your ever-so-slight (but always evident) contempt for literature as for other forms of intellectual labour. And I certainly don’t subscribe to the dualist notion of theory/praxis, as if thinking were not itself a form of action and a very important form at that!
  
A world that is more-true-to-itself, you say, as if there ever could be such a thing (and as if ever there were such a world it wouldn’t be a form of hell). It is in the closing paragraphs of your remarks, Tim, where you disappoint: it’s you (not me) who suddenly lurches into the most depressing idealism and becomes a defender of Truth – the true world, the truly transhuman, the truly Real, etc. You even start to talk about love! Don’t you see, after 2000 years of this, that love is simply hate on the recoil?

One might politely suggest you return to volume one, page one and start again ... 

Stephen Alexander (11 April 2014)
torpedotheark.blogspot.co.uk

Editorial Notes
[1] Christina Oakley-Harrington, owner of Treadwell's, now in Store Street, London. Treadwell's is the centre of a vibrant community of neo-pagans, magicians, esotericists, academics, collectors, artists and intellectuals, offering a certain equidistance between the practice of beliefs and the study of beliefs with respect to the core values of both. The lecture programme she organises is one of the treasures of London intellectual life.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Stephen Alexander on Sex and Death - The Treadwell's Papers I & II (2010)

[This was privately circulated in late November 2010. Some of the (unattributed) comments are added below. There have been some marginal editorial changes. Stephen Alexander has since become a friend but I think it would lack integrity to change the text for that reason. For his own view on things go to his regular blog at Torpedo the Ark ]

I put my book reviews up on GoodReads - www.GoodReads.com - but, sometimes, I find that a book is not there, usually because the publisher is small and specialist and has not entered into that great marketing machine known as the Internet. In this case, there was no entry but it seemed a shame not to comment.

Small publishing enterprises should be encouraged especially if they are experimental. That is not to stay that their works should not receive the same level of rigorous criticism as bigger publishers but it is better to be criticised and noticed than just be ignored.

Treadwells is a bookshop and esoteric salon, with a well attended lecture series, in London's Covent Garden [now moved to Store Street]. It is not a publisher. However, in 2005 and in 2006, it invited Stephen Alexander to give two sets of lectures, first on sex and then on death, in an attempt to build a bridge between the hard edge of continental philosophy and neo-paganism.

These papers were edited and then published as The Treadwell's Papers Volumes I and II (in fact, one paperback) earlier this year by Blind Cupid Press.

The experiment is not a complete success as we will see but it was an important and worthy attempt to bring some intellectual rigour to the consideration of what is going on in the world of the new religions and a chance for that world to hear from one intellectual engaged deeply with the likes of Nietzsche and Foucault.

The two sets of lectures must be treated separately because sexuality is far more central (even when some practitioners go into a state of denial about this) to most neo-pagan lives than death - although the idea of natural cycles and (in some traditions) return is a powerful theme in pagan thought.

However, we must make one criticism from the beginning that applies to both books - Stephen Alexander's not entirely explained obsession with DH Lawrence whose writings he privileges in a way that they simply cannot bear.

DH Lawrence is an important figure in English literary history and in understanding English culture but he was not a philosopher. In fact, he was often a hysteric - much like Bataille, another writer referred to by Alexander, or Artaud - and his own thinking on sex and death is of merely antiquarian interest, much like that of, say, HG Wells on society.

This obsession with Lawrence and his works is a barrier to understanding because, too often, especially in the second volume on death, this paragon of highly intelligent male sexual hysteria is taken not as an example (rightly in some places) but as a guide. He is not. This detracts from the books.

Sex/Magic

The Sex/Magic Volume is much superior to the succeeding one on death, in part because Alexander really does contest with vigour some of the wishy-washy aspects of neo-pagan mentality on the latter's ground.

He is devastatingly right about the capture of a part of witchcraft by the Jewish matriarchalism of Starhawk and the turning of sexuality into that sort of tolerance that tut-tuts sexual beings into traditional monogamy and right behaviour by the back door. Starhawk clearly fulfils some social need but whatever she claims to be, she is not truly 'paganus'.

I have decided not to waste time on the distracting Laurentian arguments but what Alexander does with some success is point to the tendency of paganism to owe too much to the culture from which it is seeking to rebel, especially in regard to that culture's dualism, especially male/female dualism.

The history of the modern pagan revolt against Judaeo-Christianity is not a simple break but a series of shuddering lurches where the advanced guard leaves a substantial conservative force behind.

Crowley now looks increasingly nineteenth century and Thelema reaches a Typhonian high point in a man, Kenneth Grant, whose attitude to the sexual is still secretive and dualist. Gardner too increasingly appears to be carrying out in ritual the coded sexual tensions of the first half of the twentieth century.

Alexander's service is a cruel one here but a necessary one. Using Nietzsche as his type-philosopher (a philosopher scarcely considered by the 'greats' of the neo-pagan revolution though much earlier than they), he shows that a great deal of popular neo-paganism is not as liberatory as it thinks it is - it has revolted against one form of essentialism only to create new forms that have not moved very far from Plato.

Of course, existentialism is a damned hard school and it seems unfair to deprive neo-pagans, in their own heartland, of solace in the essential. This is an argument that applies equally to the Christian who may be embedded in philosophical nonsense but who gains such solace that only the hardest curmudgeon would deny their faith, hope and charity when they are not persecuting others.

But if you ask a continental philosopher into your inner sanctum, don't expect him to be anything other than he is. The removal of the binary approach to constructing our social reality has been revolutionary to the point that, now, anyone who persists in binary thought is either a 'fool' (in fact, simply uneducated) or a 'knave' (wilfully authoritarian or manipulative of the dead weight of binary thinking at the heart of our current social reality).

Good/evil, male/female, nature/nurture, mind/body, black/white and so on have been embedded in our thinking as much as top/down - that there is good, evil, male, female, mind, body etcet. is unanswerable but that there is some clear dividing line between categories that is not contingent and circumstantial is now very contestable.

The tradition within neo-paganism (though gnosticism too is fundamentally essentialist) that comes closest to this thinking is the gnostic while neo-paganism still moves closer towards continental philosophy than any other Western religion (the Eastern religions actually influenced continental philosophy and are a different kettle of fish).

Shorn of Lawrence, Alexander is definitely worth reading and insightful on sex and the magical, relying on Foucault as much as Nietzsche. On sex, he offers a short intellectual boot camp for neo-pagans that they will either get or not get and, if they get it, will move them sharply on from many traditional reconstructionist forms.

There is not space here to critique all six lectures but, after the introductory talk, Alexander goes on to cover masturbatory fantasy (where he falls into his own traditionalist trap in the end), the positive liberatory idea of 'cunt' (where he provides a devastating account of the evil of female genital mutilation that, in itself, rather knocks sideways any romantic view of indigenous cultures), the meaning of anal sex, a subversive view of nakedness in witchcraft (which is worth reading alongside Carr-Gomm's recent review of nakedness in our culture) and an interesting view of the masochistic and fetishistic aspects of ritual in Wicca.

I do not always agree with his analyses. Alexander gets so bound up with his argument that he comes out as a sort of moraliser for a particular model of Foucauldian anarchy that subverts itself into a surprising acceptance of a certain balance in favour of order.

Indeed, he is often philosophically confused and the personal does seem to take over ... he plays the magus to a vulnerable audience at such times, less here than in the second book, in a way that I find just a tad suspicious. Does he really believe all this or is he just playing?

However, the manipulation and absurdities of his position are tolerable because his insights are good. If you keep your wits about you and read him without allowing the magician's misdirection and sleight of mind to glamour you into futile shock or absurd acceptance, you will get a great deal out of this series of lectures.

In summary, his critique of modern neo-paganism stands up and is well-argued - even if I, for one, see no reason why the kinder and more tolerant delusions of these new religions should not continue to be encouraged as far more beneficent than Judaeo-Christian miserabilism.

However, it is this kindness and tolerance that, towards the end, Alexander seems to want (or perhaps not want but be led by his logic) to undermine with an attitude to the sexual that will appear not liberatory but nihilistic. Some kind of implied psychic anger starts to appear that obviates the claim to philosophy and this becomes more obvious in the second volume.

Thanatology

This second volume, on the other hand, was a disappointing series of lectures not only because of the constant references to Lawrence (which became simply tiresome after a while) but because it just did not work philosophically - so much of it was blind assertion with very little connection to specific neo-pagan concerns (quite unlike the 2005 series).

At the end of the 2005 Papers, Alexander seemed to be particularly concerned to attack religious fascism, indeed the fascistic mentality altogether, but in 2006, his ruminations on death contain all the hysterical despair of the sort of late nineteenth century or early twentieth century intellectual ripe for the blood lust of ... yes, fascism.

Thanatology starts with a remarkably black (to most people) vision of existence. Personally, I not only get this but have written on it and have moved on from it but Alexander does not seem to be able to move on at all.

His brilliant (at this point) account of our place in Existence reminds one of Thomas Ligotti's stories, which are one up in existential darkness from HP Lovecraft, and the actual existential joy in the Nietzschean 'ubermensch' is often expressed as if he does not fully understand it himself.

He sounds so black (not entirely without philosophical justification) that you wonder whether it was an act of cruelty to perpetrate this 'dark night of the soul' on a bunch of pagan innocents at the first lecture. Still, it is smart stuff and the book really only declines after this point.

Thanatology goes on to cover Heidegger's concept of 'Da-Sein' (badly, I think, with the same obsessive darkness of the introductory lecture), an unpersuasive but genuinely stimulating discussion of the relationship between sex and death (though he can sound a bit like Baudelaire after a particularly rough night out), a view on suicide that goes beyond private rights (where I stand) to such an espousal of the death instinct that even I might have him removed from society for fear of his effect on the temporarily disturbed young - and a section on human sacrifice which takes him into the realm of nihilistic evil.

It is his rather weak (in historical terms which seems to owe more to Frazer than any serious reading of Aztec culture) lecture on sacrifice where he lost me - and quite profoundly.

From his apparent liberatory anti-fascist stance in Book I, his desire to show off as an intellectual has had him turn topsy-turvy and, it would seem, at least implicitly (pages 279-288), to espouse mass slaughter as a possible good in itself, not the sacrifice of oneself but the sacrifice of others for some grander narrative.

Bloody hell! Literally ... or is he simply telling us what Nietzsche, Lawrence and Bataille have thought? It is not entirely clear ...

Finally, he moves on to Nietzsche's Death of God and a reinterpretation of Christ's Sacrifice which sounds all very good as a literary exercise (which is how perhaps we should see this Second Book) but which is undermined by a very simple fact on which Heidegger would have put him right - er, Stephen, we don't get up again when we die.

Neither do all those slaughtered victims ... nor the temporarily young disturbed person who kills themselves (though the case of Ellen West remains a corrective to excessive determination to deny this private right). Sex is different which is why he is on safer ground.

But even here, Foucault's death from AIDS, as much as you may try and re-clothe it in 'choice' by a man who tried to kill himself and had masochistic tendencies, the responsibility (unless you are a psychopath) for another's life if a child is born and the fact that a woman does tend to get dumped with the consequences, all suggest that the wilder shores of what I would term sub-existentialist nihilism move very close to an hysterical and disturbed attempt to acquire the attributes of psychopathy (without being psychopathic) as a form of self-death.

Logically, anyone who held many of the views in this second book for real as opposed to literary effect, who did rather than talked - and most intellectuals talk rather than do - would not only be dangerous to social order (which might be a good thing) but could be dangerous to their intimates and themselves (which is not).

Perhaps we might call this second book a prime representation of the 'Heliogabalus Complex' - the desire by troubled intellectuals who have no effect on the world to create a fantastic vision of that world in which all values are trans-valued not in order to make the world more true to itself but a reflection of their own thoughts.

It is the ultimate 'the personal is the political'. Such gloomy intellectuals always appear when things start spinning out of control and are always attracted to the esoteric and the occult precisely because these latter are often an 'absurd' attempt to re-make reality.

In fact, this elitist intellectualism is very dangerous - it is neither truly transhuman in the Nietzchean sense nor effective 'magic' (manipulation) and is only a partial description of reality.

Neo-paganism has arisen because of something greater than intellectual frustration and narcissism. It is as 'false' as every other faith-based system but it 'works' and does so under conditions of exceptional tolerance and community. It is pragmatically good until the day that it gets 'power' then it reverses its own polarity and becomes a problem. It is power, not truth (and here we are with Foucault) which is at issue.

I don't like Starhawk because she takes things too far towards the world of power (over minds). I suspect that Gardnerian and Thelemite models are already becoming sclerotic.

But the impulse to love and build community from below is an important one, one that defies Alexander's black vision of the universe, as not a truth (which it is not) but as a reality (which it is).

The value of continental philosophy lies in stripping away pretensions to truth. It is counter-productive if it positions Non-Truth, paradoxically, as Truth. We have not then progressed at all.

The fallacy of Western intellectualism is thus to seek truth when there is no truth that is not black - and to avoid dealing with realities which can never be 'truth' but which are created by ourselves out of mind and matter in different forms every second of every day in conjunction with billions of other people as useful to ourselves.

The only Truth in this context is scientific and based on pragmatic considerations of experiment and utility. The Western philosophical project should be to give up seeking truth beyond science, especially give up making the 'black' Truth into a reality as meaningless as that of religion.

The art is to know the darkness for what it is and to build pragmatic human-friendly realities regardless of this - and just see what happens.

This is exactly what real existentialism says - Nietzsche's myth of the Eternal Return as a kick up the backside to build the reality you want now, while Heidegger's engagement with Da-Sein is a positive engagement with reality without recourse to essentialist truths. You don't need a great deal more than that.

So this is the paradox of Alexander's work - he is still, despite everything, not merely trying to find out the Truth as Non-Truth but seeking to drive it outwards to others like any latter-day St. Augustine or Engels. He is in danger of being to Foucault what these gentlemen were to Christ and Marx. He should perhaps just ease up and go with the flow ...

But I am glad he wrote these lectures. I am glad they were published. Despite my criticisms, I think (if you are fairly strong-minded) you could profit greatly be reading what he has to say. It may take you to the edge but, if you do not do yourself in or leads legions to slaughter, you should come out of it a stronger person.


Comments in Response to Criticisms [November 2010]

A  

The mind that is totally dependent on language for experience is only half a mind. Just because something cannot be described or can only be approximated in language does not mean that it is not there only that a) it cannot be described or approximated and c) it can only be communicated analogically by reference to the possibility of someone else recognising that they may have had a similar non-linguistically describable experience.

This is the fundamental problem with language-based intellectualism. It is pragmatically effective in building social reality and in managing matter through technology but it is no guide to the experience of being and our raw relationship to Existence. As I say, the only binary that is not a mere contingent tool for building society is the binary between ourselves and Existence.

In ourselves, we are beyond binaries and only become binary in relation to others. The magic of love, spirituality and other raw emotions is that we move from binary into the apparently illusory state of unification.

It is illusory from the point of view of thought and society but thought is illusory from the point of view of experience so the unification is both a lie and a truth, neither one nor the other and certainly not 'binary'. Society is, similarly, both a truth and a lie and therefore not binary.


B

Even the indvidual and society are not binary (in relation to each other) because the individual is functionally constructed by society and society by the intervention by and struggle between individuals.

Ideology is the anti-human opposition to the individual at the extreme en
d of social reality - the creation of the half-minds of intellectuals - whereas 'unification' or the gnostic is the anti-social creation of integrated and individuated minds operating perhaps to the detriment of their own physical survival on occasions - and certainly to their wealth and status. One makes choices.


C
  
First Critic:  For starters, I dont think you can assume that your experience has any similarity to my experience without communication.

My Reply: I surmise with some small logic based on similarities not only of formal language but context and non-verbal communication - which is one of the roles of art. But I cannot 'know' anything, I can merely surmise and that surmise must be understood to be approximate only, a useful fiction based on probability, perhaps sometimes possibility.

D

I am reluctant to speak for Alexander beyond a certain point because it would be wrong to claim to express him better than himself. In essence, he appears to contrast the 'Starhawk' sexual-magical approach (as example) with Lawrence's somewhat desperately neurotic (and I think downright silly) male-hysterical objection to it in preference to straight bonking. He then surrounds this with all sorts of interpretative complexity that bears little relation to the act itself.

My view is somewhat cold and analytical. Masturbation is first and foremost a pleasure without meaning. Pleasures do not have to have meaning. He is certainly right that magical masturbation appears to represent philosophical nonsense - I would go further and say that the whole performance around it by Californian Wiccans, analogous to the nonsense of Neo-Tantra, is a back-handed compliment to Judaeo-Christian sexual repression by giving it more importance than it should have.

On the other hand as a) deliberate transgression in some contexts (though it is sad that it is necessary) and b) as an element in dynamic hormonal change in appropriate contexts (where it sits with a range of means including drugs and alcohol and whatever), then it is a 'tool for use'. People really should relax more about this sort of thing and stop imbuing natural and pleasurable and harmless acts with philosophical depth that they do not have.

On female genital mutilation, some things are just absurdly wrong and this is one. Anyone who argues such things is stuck up their own intellectual orifice.

Even Alexander who is well stuck up that moral orifice in Volume 2 on suicide and human sacrifice, gets it in Volume 1 - people are not objects at the service of ideas or theory and the only person permitted to mutilate themselves (and they are) are individuals free of pressure from other individuals and choosing to do so for their own sakes, as tools of individuation.

We romanticise indigenous tribalism and primitive societies for reasons that show the moral vacuum at the heart of much New Age thinking where the image or the simulacrum or the wish has replaced the reality. Alexander does a service here.




Second Critic

The thing one has to bear in mind about Stephen Alexander, other than his strange obsession with D.H. Lawrence, is that a lot of the time he is being intentionally provocative and doesn't necessarily hold with the position he is espousing. He will often take a 'stance' with the intention of upsetting the apple carts, whether or not he personally holds with said position is another matter entirely.
 
I have not read the papers, though I did attend both lecture series in entirety. The audience were not the 'usual' Treadwell's audience... there were very few neo-pagans. Most of the audience being philosophy students/graduates/teachers with a smattering of occultists and one or two neo-pagans - the latter whom worked at the shop were almost there by default, one could say.

 
2005/6 is such a long time ago that I cannot, to be honest, recall much more than the mood and taste of those lectures... the actual content long since having been dragged screaming down to the abyss of my mind where it has no doubt been lunched on by a Deep One. 

 
Perhaps, I should pop along to Treads and get a copy of the book. It would be interesting to re-visit the material.

 
As for your critique, Tim. You do seem to have hit the nail on the head in many respects, most insightful, however without the transcripts I cannot comment on particulars.


To Which I Replied:  

Thanks for that insight. I guessed he was being provocative (after all, his disquisition in implicit favour of Aztec mass human sacrifice might have been regarded as deeply disturbed and attracted the attention of the security services) but you have to take what is presented in front of you and not assume that everything is to be treated as if it was ironic - there comes a point when being ironic is ironic and that way true philosophical madness lies The book is, I think, worth reading - not as a masterpiece (it is not) but as something that, DH Lawrence aside, helps one to clarify ones own position helpfully. Good on Treadwell's for publishing it.

And My Critic Clarifies:

One must also not forget that in many ways the old skool/original punk in Stephen Alexander is still alive and well and informs, to an extent, his approach to life, the universe and writing/giving lectures. There is that sense that his lectures, much like his life, are performance art.

To Which:

Is not everything in life?

And so:

True. Though not everyone fully embraces that fact, let alone relish it.

To Which:

Perhaps there should be Oscars for best performance in life, best personal style, best use of language ...

F: 

First Critic:

On Situated Gestalts, surely given that the brain is in part a pattern recognition (and pattern creation) instrument that finds (and generates) a signal amidst noise, art, for instance, is the creation of the encounter between an artist's creation and its perciever? In that, in the absense of an artist's narrative, no two people will percieve the same work of art (with the possible exception of some explicit literary works). The same is the case when we encounter something unexplained in life, and this is what I understand to be meant by a situated gestalt. Because of this no one actually experiences existance they experience the relation between existance and their own meaning generation. A meaning that may also ontologically transform what is experienced. Given the possibility that the meaning we find may correlate partly, or even entirely, with the actual signification of the experience (as opposed to its percieved significance), we can to some extent have a shared experience, but, as you say, we cannot know which element is the shared portion until we communicate linguistically (either directly in approximate description or indirectly in poetic analogue).

When we clarify a situated gestalt with approximate description we binarize it, if it cannot be classically binarized we use poetry. But even poetic language parasites off of linguistic meaning, so in fact is still binarized at a deeper level isn't it? If I compare you to a rose, to understand that you have to have a binary 'rose / not-rose' concept, in order to know what a 'rose' is. Therefore we can't have a shared experience outside of binary language. Am not sure what you meant by context in terms of meaning, if you mean inference (as in 'as a writer he was unsurpassed in his emulation') even thats binary in the sence of it being related to what it excludes. So I would agree that anything involving another person generates duality, by virtue of our binary seperation from that which we both refer to and the parallel seperation with that person.

So perhaps only in unity can we have non-duality, but here you say we as ourselves have this inner unity, which I would question. After all we are nothing more than a bundle of sensations and desires held together by some mysterious 'I'. Internally we have many binary relations, and in part unify them and thus create ourselves as a unity through language. We only have to see how a non linguistic animal chases its own tail to realise that. You then romantically assume 'love' generates a sense of unity, when all it really involves is attachment (a binary between two subjects) and at best an imaginative identification.

So I would deny, from this perspective, that we ever experience unity and only ever experience relation. Likewise we never experience existance only our falsification (and perhaps modification) of it. All our experience of the 'ground reality' is a conceptually mediated illusion to a large extent and our concepts are based on binary language. Nothing is unmediated. 

 
Thats the view from the problem side of the hill.
From the other side of the hill, I think we can be aware of unity and non-duality. But I'll return to this when I've got round the hill and rebooted my brain on a new program, in a bit.

Note, by meaning I understand X=Y, so you can have true meaning or actual signification (2+3=5) , false meaning (2+3=4) or personal meaning or significance (2+3=23).

Note 2, by love I of course mean that delusion of unity that comforts us in our essential alienation and is rooted in our self-love unconsciously transfered onto another or imagined.

After all, even on a biological level its been found that the more
closely related organisms are to each other the stronger will be their desire to mate (peaking with identical twins), and its only by virtue of inverse imprinting in early development that animals don't mate with their relatives or same sex (neither of which are guaranteed :))))


 Perhaps the essence of unity is to be found in contradiction? In the previous perspective I was seeing things in terms of rational generalisation (which we need to in order to be able to live and on which language itself is based). But we also experience things in the particular. The ultimate particular being the mysterious 'I'.

Every experience arguably has its own unique particularity which can not be compared with any other element of an experience. It's unique difference. We normally ignore this in people as it only heightens the realisation of our alienation as well as in events as it detracts from our generalised sense of meaning. But really difference and uniqueness may be our our only authentic point of unity, even 'sameness'.

Perhaps we can't truely love someone unless we can percieve their uniqueness, and can't achieve this till we have accepted out own uniqueness and existential isolation.

If we focus on the uniqueness of things instead of their generality we begin to see the world in a different way. While we can never escape the way language and thought generalizes the world for us, we can bracket that off to some extent and narrow in on the particular, which we can concieve of in virtue of relation to the 'I'.

In this particularizing view of the world we lose all sense of generalisation and logic. We can say that X = Y in terms of unique situation A and X = Z in terms of unique situation B, but also that Y does not eqaul Z in any general terms. We thus open up a para-logical realm in which contradictions and not 'realisations' are the essence of experience. Not that everything is contradictory and irrational, as that would be to return to generalisation, just that some things apply in the context of a particular and others don't. Thus in these terms everything possible (the universe) includes a full range of contradictions that in general rational terms would negate each other to nothing. Everything possible as they say really is Nothing. So my last statement above 'Nothing is unmediated' may be doubly true!

 
The particular is also unmediated because that is what stands out in experience, it only takes a single experience to experience the novel, but sameness requires an indefinite ammount of experience to affirm true identity (even though 'novelty' may constantly change). That is your awareness of particularity and novelty is constantly affirmed (and modified) where as generality and conclusive identity is always infinitely deferred till everything has been sampled (more experience may clarify the differentiation, you can experience red for the first time, then a second time, but eventually you may discover a finer differentiation of shades of red and so a new uniqueness which disrupts the sameness).

From this perspective we can say the 'ground reality' reference is he mysterious 'I' and novelty in experience, or difference. Which when generalised paralogically leads to the conclusion that 'ground reality' is Nothingness. Which may be why we ourselves experience the 'I' as a 'creative nothingness', because that's what everything is.

That's as far as I can go from this side of the hill, hampered as I am with the binaries of language and conceptual thought....


... note, a lot of delusional mysticism is based on the Platonic error of projecting generalised abstractions of illusory sameness, into some higher realm. Or by regarding the general rational view of the world is the reality instead of an illusion.

This doesn't deter from the instrumental value of reason of course nor the generation of approximate maps or models of reality, just our mistaking them for reality.


Second Critic 

 "... leads to the conclusion that 'ground reality' is Nothingness. Which may be why we ourselves experience the 'I' as a 'creative nothingness', because that's what everything is." Did you really have to jump through all those hoops to reach this conclusion? lol


My Reply

Well you were on a roll there with, in your customary fashion, the ability to hold contradictory ideas in seeming balance without turning a hair ...

... the duality you refer to is simply the fact that the 'other' (the person) is part of the
Existence into which we are thrust and it is tautologous to create further binaries than the core one that I postulated (Da-Sein/Existence). These latter are illusory binaries in that they are simply constructed by Da-Sein (oneself thrust into a relationship with Existence) and the essential unknowability of Existence (which does not exist except in a relationship of Meaning to us and which only comes into Existence from Non-Existence as we engage with it).

The 'situated gestalt' is merely an attempt to give a linguistic explanation for this tension between the two categories in the original binary opposition where, though we can imagine half-states (hence our historical interest in after-lives and cosmic narratives and our current cultural fascination with zombies, vampires, frankensteinian monster and even sentient robots and aliens and so on), we find ourselves back to the point made in my review - that death is final and we are all on a road towards it.

Thus, Existence paradoxically also loses in its final victory over us by asserting its Non-Existence for us at the point of death. At that point, we do not exist and it does not exist either. The finality is not our loss only but the loss of everything.

The 'situated gestalt' is a very useful explanatory tool but it is the point at which thinking begins to embed itself in the human mind as binary thinking - the attempt to extend the original binary opposition so that the world might be manipulated until it goes too far and becomes, first, analytical philosophy and then, second, ideology, the degeneration of philosophy into a form of false socialised matter, the construction of this social reality as 'real' and, worse (since real is arguable, given the accepted working reality of Existence as science and shared manipulable reality), 'true' and even, in the most insane development of all, 'beautiful' and 'good'.

The unity exists in the original binary opposition and is momentary and fluid - a succession of unities - defined as unities against Existence where Existence is, ultimately, its own negation. Our unified moments exist within our consciousness where nothing else exists if it is outside that unitary moment. Existence is thus, as I have suggested, Non-Existence except where it is pragmatically used as techne or symbol by the unified moment that is the momentary Self in relation to the Existence that is Non-Existence, its own contradiction.

Thus 'love' is only a delusion when observed from outside in the world of Existence (which is Non-Existence so that any observed love cannot be existent) whereas it is not a delusion when experienced in the momentary unified moment that defies Existence. The momentary experience of unification at certain points in life are thus points that humanity both seeks out and fears because such points are necessarily denied by the social out of 'ressentiment' and fears of its disruptive effect on the stability of the 'fake' Existence we call 'society'.

Yet, those who have experienced such moments which are promiscuous in their subjects and situations are fully aware that the claim that such moments are illusory comes only from persons who live in a different type of illusion under conditions where the term illusory is so general as to define Existence itself - and so Non-Existence so that all is real and all is illusion and the terms are utterly meaningless. The moment is all ...


First Critic

Well, yes thats Heideggar's view, but it doesnt actually make sense particularly because its full of unwarranted assumptions.

For one it seems to be assuming unity of existance, which is probably not the case according to Physics, and it may be assumi
ng unity of Self, depending how he defines Dasein (if he means the Subject its certainly not unified, if he just means the bare 'I' its unified in an odd way as there's nothing there to unify, just bare perception, and its also difficult to see how it does anything). But I'd say the notion that the Dasein creates Existance by engaging with Non-Existance is a bit odd, Physics has certainly shown otherwise (our engagement with the world does seem to create the phenomenal world of classical physics, but it doesnt create the underlying quantum reality, which certainly exists in the normal sense of the word), though I suppose if you swap 'Manifest' for 'Existance' it does make some sence, perhaps.

Likewise in this context 'death' can only be seen as transitional, a becoming unmanifest, what ever thats like, and what ever is unmanifest can become manifest in the same form within Physics, so I don't see it as final, critically transformative perhaps and final to a life if you give it any meaning or goal (which I don't). I think H gets really flaky when he starts talking about Existance in this way its a bit like some religious nut talking about 'heaven' only in reverse (the faith based postulation of a fundamental non-existance, rather than of some fundamental higher existance) and seems worse to me.

Everything else stated makes no sense in concrete terms, I suspect H was more than a little insane It even seems to be implying a kind of ontological Idealism which has long been refuted.


To Which I Replied

It does not assume unity of Existence (which is unknowable). It simply assumes the unity of unknowability in its aspect of all that is unknowable that we come up against as beings-in-the-world and which we call Existence, i.e. as being a unity to all intents and purposes as far as the conscious subject is concerned. If we knew the not-unity of the unity of Existence, then it would cease to be raw Existence and become some-thing instead of no-thing-in-particular that may or may not be No-Thing-At-All. That, I think, is unanswerable.

Physics shows us merely what is utile to us. It is 'true' but its truth is tautological - that is, we call it true because it works for us and can be perceived by us out of the raw material of Existence.

It is just the 'is-ness' of things to the degree that we can understand and make use of it but it is not all the 'is-ness' of Existence, much of which we clearly cannot know and may be beyond physics or may not. We do not know. The quantum stuff is covered by this as is any future model of the world that the human mind can cope with.

If Heidegger was insane, then I am insane - don't answer that!


First Critic

'is-ness' makes more sense than 'existence' But I'm not sure about this unity of unknowability, its an odd definition of unity.

I think Physics is a fairly accurate approximation of the 'is-ness' of existance, obviously not a complete description but a very close one.


To Which I Replied

It is the unity of all that cannot be knowingly divided ... you may not assume its division: that is an act of 'faith' and you may as well believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster (which perhaps you do) in which case there is no arguing with you ... as for the last point, isness is isness, it cannot be approximated - to be close is not to be near at all. You can be as close as you like in your mind's eye but you are never 'there'in fact ... and cannot know where 'there' is in order to be adequately near enough to say that you are close with any meaning.

G:

Second CriticAs regards your Existential fundamentalism... maybe we will get ya next time 'round.

Me: I'm as slippery an eel: I'd like to see you try ... Ha! I am a fundamentalist ... the FBI will now be on to me ...

Second Critic: Indeed, Tim, you ARE an existential fundamentalist... own it... and beg forgiveness..

Me: I never beg ... better to die on your feet than live on your knees ...

Second Critic: That's the spirit...

ENDS