Saturday, November 23, 2013

On Aimless Wandering

Let us wander without aim. We’ll wander long and deep into the night and we’ll find many wondrous things therein.

Aimless wandering is a purely intuitive art. There exists a hidden cartography, an orientation of the irrational, by which the wanderer follows the trace of destiny through places both familiar and unknown. All known routes are surrendered at the outset of the journey, the stated objective of which is to attain to flavors as yet untasted by the soul. To the wanderer, every place is the destination, every moment as a wine distilled purely for their indulgence, a wine of a particular fragrance heretofore unknown and never to be known again. The rarest and most hidden treasures are to be found by accident, given only to those without clear aim, who have set out on a route inscrutable. To sin is to miss the mark – but how can one miss is aim is never taken? In wandering, one is wholly without sin. It is the last of the purely innocent arts.

It has been told that if you wander its streets and byways at every hour of the day and night, explore its hidden passageways, allows its secret voice to reverberate deep within your soul as you submerse yourself into its Mysteries, you will at length come to discern the Kabbalistic heart of the city. There you will find the terrible and the sublime. Allow the essence of this hidden heart into your own and you will come to know the heart of every city, from Detroit to Golgonooza.

In ritual, one must orient oneself in accordance with the winds, with the cardinal points, with the rotation of the planet relative the sun and moon and with the stars. Aimless wandering and symbolic orientation are as the Aleph and the Tau of the lost art, while Mem is the tongue of balance between them. Taken all together, we have the word AMeTh – “truth”. This is the word that the golem of Prague bore upon its forehead. If the capacity for aimless wandering is removed, the result is MeTh – “death”. I would suggest that we keep this well in mind. 

Some thoughts on the corresponding art of orientation may be found here

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Works of Sublimity and Mystery: Incidents in the Night by David B.

David B. - Incidents in the Night
Uncivilized Books (Published originally in French as Les Incidents de la Nuit by L’Association)

Ah, to hold within your hands at last a rare and long sought after book. There are books and periodicals that have been all but forgotten, having attained almost to the status of myth. Is not a myth more exalted than the real thing in some cases? After all, myths endure, while paper decays with time. How many people in our day and age have held within their hands one of the few remaining copies of Giodano Bruno's 'Sapphiro Regia Stellantis', or Lautremant's 'La Paon Infernal'? It is often lamented among collectors of rare books that the internet has destroyed much of the joys of collecting, that any book may now be had by anybody willing to put up the money. Yet this is not entirely true. There still exist certain rare volumes which are spoken of only in hints and rumors, nearly (if not completely) unknown online, not to be found on Ebay at any time. 

Incidents in the Night by David B. is a book-lovers dream in graphic novel form. It is the first of what looks to be two volumes. The fictitious periodical which is its subject and from which it takes its name is an invention worthy of Borges. Perfectly plausible, yet (so far as I can ascertain) entirely mythical. The contents of the first volume of the magazine are described in just enough detail within the narrative to give the phantom a hint of substance, to make us feel as though it might be nearly possible to obtain a copy of one of these elusive treasures for ourselves. 

There is yet another book described within this one. Its text consists simply of the letter ‘N’ repeated over and over across the blinding glare of the otherwise empty page. I am reminded of the story ‘N’ by Arthur Machen, which would seem to partake of a theme related to the context in which this book appears. This single letter, taken alone as a signifier, is of interest in itself. In English, it might be taken to refer to the compass point, affiliating it with the magnetic currents of the earth and allowing it to indicate a clear direction of travel. North has always been the direction of mystery, if not for any other practical reason than the fact that, in times past, the climate of the far north made it largely inaccessible. At the extreme north, far beyond the reach of our corporeal nature, lies the pole star around which the heavens revolve. The mystics of Islam, in their cartography of the soul, associated the north with the darkness at the approach to the pole, the sun at midnight in who's invisible light the aspiring mystic is annihilated in the consciousness of the Divine One. The Hebrew letter N signifies the fish, that which is able to survive within the depths of the sea. The sea may be taken to represent the unmapped regions of the unconscious, void of structure, wherein the rational mind cannot abide. This is the place of pure intuition or knowledge of the soul. The human part of us is drowned in this place; only that part of us which is signified by the glyph of the fish may survive in this environment. Interestingly, this book within a book consisting only of the letter ‘N’ is titled ‘The Desert’, which, as with the depths of the sea and the polar regions, acts as a sort of terra inaccessible to that which is most human in us. There is here an association with the forbidden and the impossible, with death and the transcendence of death.

N is also a negation, a nonentity, a cancellation. It represents the signification of a thing by its absence. This mythical book would seem to stand opposed to the Rosicrucian Book M or Liber Mundi, often taken to represent the whole of manifestation as cosmic book. Liber Mundi bears much in relation to the creation myth presented to us in the Sepher Yetzirah, in which the universe is formed by the engraving of 22 primordial letters on the void, and their subsequent permutation. Perhaps this Liber N, then, takes the form of the shadow of the book of the Rosicrucians: it is the void itself, a book containing no words, pages or letters, no light, no truth, nothing whatsoever.

The appearance of the book 'N' in the present work seems to bear the weight of all of these associations. It is enigmatic, consisting of more than the sum of its parts, and at the same time elusive and omnipresent - perhaps it is better if it is never adequately explained.  

The story presented in this book blends admirably the heights of myth with the depths of pulp fiction and noir. It hints at hidden symmetries and the primacy of the unwritten (and, in this case, the unseen). I eagerly look forward to volume 2.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Works of Sublimity and Mystery: O Altitudo by Thomas Strømsholt

Thomas Strømsholt - O Altitudo
Ex Occidente Press, limited to 100 hand numbered copies

One of only three books released in this particular format under the Les Éditions De L'Oubli imprint of Ex Occidente Press (subsequent L'Oubli editions are printed in an entirely different format). A wee tiny little book, beautifully produced. The book has the feel of an imaginary object, a volume extant only in the libraries of Borges or Stanislaw Lem, a book that you want so badly to exist, to hold within your hands, but which by its very nature will be denied to you. Except that in this case it is real, albeit only in a very limited edition. 

There are four stories contained herein: In Search of the Hidden City, The Auwisnat Transfigurations, The Émigré Emperor, and The Furnished Room. Each one is sublime, but it is the first of the four stories that I find myself coming back to again and again.

In Search of the Hidden City is a story that might exist within my dreams. I often dream of stories read and half-remembered, books consisting only of impressions or aesthetic traces which, for all of their immateriality, leave their mark upon my sleeping soul such that the atmosphere of the phantom book remains in memory long after every other detail of the dream has faded. A story in a dream might mingle and blend with the narrative experience of the dreamer. Just so with this story – have I not wandered through some of the spaces detailed therein? I could swear that it’s possible, but when might it have been, and where? A topology of a phantom city, indeed. 

"She saw houses flicker like grinning ghosts in the violet hour. She saw their featureless facades flake away like old skin revealing their brittle bones; a concrete block of flats opened its flat gaze towards the pale blue sky, its tiles swelling to form a voluptuous cupola; an office building was slowly enveloped in an embrace of lush ivy and blossoming periwinkle; and whichever way she turned her eyes, walls grew extravagant ornaments and carved figures…"

Another book is contained within the pages of this one, if only in the form of a partial description. It is called The Copenhagen Peregrinations, and it was written in the late 19th century by Tajny Pruvodce. I highly doubt that it could possibly exist as a real book in the exact format in which it is presented here, and a brief search for its author bears no fruit. But what I would not give to peruse its pages!

This story is long steeped in Mystery and Sublimity, yet is also shot through with depravity and unease. The result is singular and intoxicating, at once audacious and inexplicably familiar. It leaves a resonance upon my palette not unlike that left by my first taste of fine, strong liquor.

"And yet, after three days of meandering about the curved streets, Elaine had a nagging feeling that the quarter was larger than it should be…"

The remaining stories strive toward the perfection of the first, and indeed each comes close in its own particular way. Strømsholt has produced what looks to be a fair amount of published work in his native Danish, but very few pieces in English (so far as I know, none of his Danish writing has been translated). The strictly limited nature of this release does not make it an easy item to track down. It is currently sold out with the publisher, though copies of the book do occasionally turn up in the used book market for a not unreasonable price. As with all Ex Occidente books, the rarity of this item is part of its charm, its mystery. Seek it out. If you do manage to find it, the long sought after artifact will be worth far more to you than if you had simply placed an order on Amazon. 

Dream of an Impossible Hotel

I wandered through a hotel diverse and miraculous. It seems that I had lived there as a child, and indeed it bore some of the features of one of the apartment buildings in which I grew up, along with some distinctive traces of a building in which I spent a handful of my formative years.

Paper figures, delicately painted and folded, lived and moved in opulent rooms and hallways interspersed with dank cellars with leaky, rusted pipes. I passed by a red velvet lounge, railed round with wrought iron, accessible via a curving staircase of ivory steps and tended by a woman made of clattering wooden boxes. The boxes which comprised her body were very delicate, inscribed with scripts of gold and silver, inset with jewels, graced with intricate handles; they opened and closed in gentle unison with her movements as she wiped down the bar and arranged the glasses.

Elsewhere waiters constructed entirely from mysterious playing cards and decorated with characters in an unknown language carried trays bearing exotic concoctions. Everybody everywhere was in costume, wondrous and full of mystery. An aristocracy of wooden puppets intermingled with figures of beautiful destitution. A woman made from painted sticks and rags sang sonorously, her voice meandering over balconies and through half-hidden gratings. 

I was searching for my apartment, unable to find it within the labyrinthine hallways. Retracing my steps, I found that the hotel was in a state of constant flux, never retaining its form in any one place for very long. I wondered if it had always been this way, perhaps I'd simply never noticed in as a child. I vaguely recalled that the place was created as an homage to some fabulous movie, long since forgotten by almost everybody, yet still cherished by few. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Angels of Obscurity: Alice Cooper – Pink Elephants / Journey to the End of the Night

Alice Cooper – Pink Elephants / Journey to the End of the Night 7” Single
Editions Dada (limited edition of 101), 1971


Lurching from the absurd to the sublime with the staggering gait of a drunken sailor, Pink Elephants consists of 3 distinct movements, each having little or no obvious relation to the other. The song opens with Alice singing a cappella, a rough but jaunty tune describing the destructive arc of four pink elephants on a rampage. Softly, softly the music fades in: a carnival orchestral which rises in intensity as the lyrics become increasingly nonsensical, only to come to a jarring halt just at the moment when things reach full swing. The second movement is a beautiful acoustic guitar piece graced by howls of derision from the band. At length the guitar winds itself down like a broken music box, leaving us with screams and yowls of joy or torment as they were white hot sparks of naked terror under penetrating moonlight for all of their rawness and intensity. Tender moments of silence are broken occasionally by shrieks and mutterings incomprehensible, whispered phrases fade in and out like deranged moths in a runaway subway car. The third and final movement resembles an Alice Cooper song proper, complete with full band and vocals. The lyrics follow the nocturnal perambulations of a retired civil servant who harbors a terrible secret, wandering through lost alleyways and deserted boulevards under the stars, communing with “angels of cinderblock and grammars of the midnight sun.” Overall, a powerful and beautiful piece, as compelling as it is perplexing.

Journey to the End of the Night seems to be a re-working of Return of the Spiders from the Easy Action LP. This version is quite a bit more fleshed out then the original, and features completely different lyrics. As in the original, the song is propelled by a steady driving riff, as if charting the perilous course of a train hurtling into the depths of a starless winter night through uncertain territory. The song is clearly an homage to Céline’s classic work. Direct quotes from the book find their way into the lyrics, which are spoken more than sung. The song rises to heights of violence and intensity unknown to the band at the time of the recording of Easy Action, though at no point does it surge off the tracks completely. Indeed, the course is maintained throughout, and the train rolls at last into the safety of the awaiting station.

Extremely rare, this one of twelve Editions Dada releases, each of which were distributed privately in a limited edition in the early 1970s. The song titles are only partly visible on the right hand side of the record sleeve, while the hand-stamped ‘DADA’ logo appears on the lower left corner (as with all Editions Dada releases). The b-side is plain and unadorned save for the lower half of the titles. Hijinks of this sort are typical of the Dada imprint. This lost gem fell into my hands at a very late stage of my fanaticism. The first of my Editions Dada finds (I’ve since found 5 more), I stumbled upon it quite by accident long after I thought that I had tracked down every last Killer era Alice Cooper outtake and bootleg to be had. Imagine my surprise.