The Decoding of All Values
And what lies beyond it
While reviewing occult writing from the last centuries for my course on hermeticism, I keep thinking about “mentalities”: Each epoch or period allows for certain kinds of expression, certain rhetorical flourishes, while others become forbidden or somehow impossible to express. The mentality of a particular time — the contemporary discourse — opens to certain realms or regions of being, particular ways of knowing and experiencing, and closes toward others.
Lately I find myself enraptured when I read certain texts from the 19th Century and before. Certain authors express esoteric perspectives that are hardly accessible today to us now, trapped as we are in our contemporary milieu.
To take one example, I discovered this extraordinary character, Paschal Beverly Randolph (1825- 1875), a black physician, sex magician and clairvoyant who traveled the world as a sailor and studied with esoteric teachers in Persia and India. Back in the US, Randolph started the first Rosicrucian order in the US, wrote a slew of books, taught literacy to freed slaves, and was tragically murdered by a jealous student in New Orleans. He starts his book, After Death; or, Disembodied Man (1868):
I am moved to write concerning the natural, spiritual, and celestial universes as they have never been written of before. Before doing so, I am led to exclaim: Thank God for death! and thank him for the life beyond the gloomy sea! Because there is rest for the weary, — for even tired me! If the agony protracted called life, that most of us who think, and, thinking, feel, endure on earth, was all, then, indeed, existence were an awful tragedy, and terrible beyond all bearing, the universe a graveyard, and the ruling God a most bitter and malignant fiend. But it is not all; it —the life on the lower globe —is but the ABC of human existence ; and this fact —however it may, by some, be disputed —is not merely to the few learned a simple logical postulate, —to them an axiomatical truth, —but it is one capable of absolute and unequivocal demonstration, in a thousand ways, to all mankind; for it is above all others, the one great thing in which all mankind are deeply interested. Hence, whatever, or whoever, throws light thereon, does a deed, that of necessity endears him and his labor to the world of human beings, who yet grope and grovel through the dark and glimmer, toward the great unknown Beyond.
I love this so much — Randolph’s sweeping syntax, his willingness to proclaim direct access to the worlds beyond this one. The lyricism of his language. It is so different from anything anyone would write today, even while exploring related themes.
The British novelist Martin Amis just passed away. In his heyday — during my early adult years — he was the maestro of a particular caustic, sardonic tone. His style perfectly meshed with the cynicism and underlying despair of the late 1980s, reinforcing the crimped mentality of those years. I find it difficult to re-read those novels now, which once captivated and thrilled me. In their prodding malevolence, they seem adolescent churlish, products of the pre-Internet manosphere.
Here is a sample from Money — celebrated in its time, most likely utterly unpublishable in today’s mainstream literary scene, where insensitivity (to genders, classes, sex workers) has become taboo:
Urged on by the cars and their brass, I crossed the road and hit the porno emporium on Forty-Third and Broadway. How to describe it? It is a men’s room. These 25-cent loop cubicles are toilets, really: you enter your trap, putting money in the slot, you sit down and do what you need to do. The graffiti is written in black magic-marker on yellow cards, to which curious pin-ups are attached. This bitch has a gash so big. Watch the fuckpigs frolic in torrents of scum. Juanita del Pablo gets it in the ass. Who writes these things? Clearly someone on exceptionally cool terms with the opposite sex. Meanwhile, the black janitoriat stroll with jinking moneybags . . . First I sampled an S/M item in booth 4A. They got the chick on her back, bent her triple, and wedged a baseball bat in the tuck behind her knees. Then they gave her electric shocks. It was realistic. Was it real? You saw a writhing line of white static, and the girl certainly screamed and bounced. I split before they gave her an enema, which they were billed to do in the scabrous hate-sheet tacked to the door. If the girl had been a bit better-looking, a bit more my type, I might have stuck around. In the next booth along I caught a quarter’s worth of film with a sylvan setting: the romantic interest of the piece focused on the love that flowers between a girl and a donkey. There she was, smiling, as she prepared to go down on this beast of burden. Ay! The donkey didn’t look too thrilled about it either. ‘I hope you’re getting good money, sis,’ I mumbled on my way out.
The literary milieu of the 1990s — along with Amis, there was, in the US, the Gordon Lish school of taut, tightly-wound sentences; The New Yorker stories marinating in the details of upper middle class lives — is not aging well. Generally the acceleration of time we are experiencing means that books, film, art, music — culture — from just a handful of years ago can feel antiquated and obsolete. On the other hand, I keep encountering esoteric works from centuries ago that seem thrillingly fresh and alive.
This could be a result of my unique circumstance: After bombing myself with exotic psychedelics in the late 1990s, I made a mid-life shift from skeptic materialism to esotericism/occultism/mysticism. Something like 97% of the modern and contemporary literary works I devoured voraciously in my twenties were staunchly materialist, expressing an underlying nihilism trapped in ego-based dramas. Amis’ novels reveled in post-punk nihilism; he took spiteful pleasure indulging in the horror vacui of modern life, as in The Information:
For an hour (it was the new system) he worked on his latest novel, deliberately but provisionally entitled Untitled. Richard Tull wasn’t much of a hero. Yet there was something heroic about this early hour of flinching, flickering labor, the pencil sharpener, the Wite-Out, the vines outside the open window sallowing not with autumn but with nicotine. In the drawers of his desk or interleaved by now with the bills and summonses on the lower shelves on his bookcases, and even on the floor of the car (the terrible red Maestro), swilling around among the Ribena cartons and the dead tennis balls, lay other novels, all of them firmly entitled Unpublished. And stacked against him in the future, he knew, were yet further novels, successively entitled Unfinished, Unwritten, Unattempted, and, eventually, Unconceived.
Currently, very powerful pressures shape our mutable collective mentality, which is taking new forms. Political, economic and social forces impinge upon our consciousness, leading to simplistic oppositions where both sides are deeply problematic. We find ourselves in a cul de sac that doesn’t allow for easy escape. Let me try to explain what I mean, which requires tilting this exploratory essay toward political issues…
The New Normal Totalitarianism
I recently became a fan of the irascible CJ Hopkins, social critic and satirist, who writes regularly on Substack. The essay that initially caught my attention is “The New Normal Left,” where Hopkins dissects something I felt and intuited, but couldn’t fully express. Essentially, Hopkins unpacks the systemic logic that led to the “Left” and “Right” switching places, in crucial ways.
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