Review: The Adversary’s Good News by Israfel Sivad

From Examining the Odd:

“I’ve just finished the amazingly exciting adventure that is Israfel Sivad’s fantasy horror, The Adversary’s Good News. This considerably fascinating book is about death. And more death. It exceeded my expectations.”

Read the full review here: The Adversary’s Good News by Israfel Sivad

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The Secret World (from “Indigo Glow”)

The Secret World
(from Indigo Glow)

California is where we’ve always dreamed
of gold and movie screens, erotic cannibalism and magazines.
Remember: we were born in the city of angels
and fell to float down artistic canals
to the ocean where our father rests,
where childhood tumbled and inhaled salted, seaweed breaths.
Neptune’s depths sounded ecstasy-drenched nights.
We sat in the corners, conscious to avoid the mermaids,
unbound as the sirens sang… fairies fluttered everywhere.

The great god, with his trident, sat at the head of it all –
A model for Hollywood’s darker visions, a horror set
with blue lights. We were lost when we wandered into the gallery that night.
With auburn hair, Queen Maeve said, “Sit right in that chair.”
Dreams of guns and roses flittered through our minds
while she removed her clothes, opened the doors, and slithered down the vine
to rest her weight on our lap. Sap rose through the trees.
Flowers budded on the TV screen, and the next thing I knew
I was being interviewed on a late-night talk show.

The host asked why I used porn stars for the dramatic roles in my films.
I replied that they were my childhood come to life. Angels…
“But they can’t speak,” he said to me. I answered,
“Three-fourths of language is in the body.”
“Then, why do you write poetry?” It satisfies
my erotic dreams, I thought. But you can’t explain
that to everybody. Instead, I asked, “Have you ever read Tyranny?
Language has its own shape. Like a seraph, it’s invisible.
Here, smoke this. Maybe, you’ll understand me then.”

I handed him my pen; I welcomed him to the modern world;
I unfurled a flag of red, white, and black. I sat back,
and we were mystically transported to the projects of New York City.
A man approached us as we stepped outside a peep show –
“The police, you know, are just another gang. I need a hundred bucks
to get my daughter back. If you’ll help me out, I’ll repay you
in the next life.” I was an existentialist then. But still,
I emptied out the savings my father had stored away for me,
and I said, “You, my friend, can have my throne in heaven.”

I’m still tumbling in the salty sea where Old Nick
chased me. The riddle was written in the stars,
but one night in a hospital it came to me. Amon-Ra
chomped on human heads across from where I wept. Jesus
reminded me of Pazuzu, and I shrieked out loud:
“My name is Lucifer. How do you do?
I believe I have a question for you. There’s not
one answer, but two. Would you like to reign in hell,
or would you rather serve like I do?” Fool! Only Loki reigns in Hel.

But back then, Lucifer was the fairy king. “And what the rednecks
didn’t realize is that faggots make witches burn…”
I heard Saint Annie purr, once, upon a midnight dreary
while I pondered weak and weary. A book of black magic
taught me ravens are the harbingers of death. I put out my left arm –
A thousand of them came to rest. I felt like
a Satanic Saint Francis, a statue in my mother’s garden…
Michael, the keeper of the flaming sword: knowledge
of good and evil. We’ve come full circle to our Lord.

Raphael! Blow your trumpet song, paint the
visions from the secret world – the highest a human can fly,
but don’t believe there’s ceilings to your soul. Limits are
the devil’s trick. For example: Our Father who art in heaven…
“Our Father,” is what he said. Not mine or yours
or his alone, but all of ours in this beautifully fallen place:
The plants, the beasts, me, you… Don’t ever believe
them when they tell you you’re not the first-born child,
the serpent said to Eve. She whispered the secret to me.

Yes. I was there. I was a bird, a bee,
a flower, and a tree. I am the Lord of everything,
and at the same time, I’m just me. Like the Dalai Lama, like you,
a human soul, the man in the moon, a piece of cheese
for the rats to chew upon. My psychiatrist said to me:
“Your thoughts are very close to psychosis, but keep going.
You just might teach me something.” I already taught you
the language of flowers and of all mute things. Who’s going to teach me?
We all will, my child. We all will.

So spoke the residents of the secret world
as I returned to my childhood kingdom.
My toys were all still there in the toy box
where I left them when my long legs carried me north into
the wilds, the frozen realms. I found absolute zero as venom
dripped into my eyes. I returned to share the secret with you. Because
I love you. I can finally say it: I – Love – You.
It took Lilith and her owl (in a dream) to teach that trick to me,
but She is another piece of the holy coast’s phenomenology.

For more poems from Indigo Glow, please click here.

A Precarious State: Violence and Retribution in Stallone’s Cobra

In the opening sequence of Sylvester Stallone’s 1986 film Cobra, images flash back and forth between a lone biker riding out before a rising sun and the eerie clanking of grisly, subterranean axes. Soon, the watcher bears witness to that lone biker, with a shotgun in hand, taking over a supermarket, an everyday aspect of American life. Supermarkets provide the United States with sustenance, and in this nightmarish landscape, they’re in danger.

Stallone’s character, Marion Cobretti (aka Cobra), a cop working through the LAPD’s fictitious “Zombie Squad” and thus functioning on the outskirts of the law himself, confronts this self-proclaimed “hero” of the New Order. Informing the “hero” that he is merely a disease to which Cobra himself is the cure, Cobra coldly guns down the lone biker to media disapproval only to discover this criminal is one among many of an army of cancerous tumors plaguing the city of Los Angeles. This infernal body of disease is eventually revealed to have a head of sorts, a maniac serial killer known throughout the movie only by the vicious derivative of Richard Ramirez’s real life media moniker of “Night Stalker”, the name “Night Slasher”.

Panned by critics upon its initial release for derivative storytelling, Cobra, possibly by fusing Hollywood genres as disparate as action and horror, has turned into a cult classic. But even more than its formal structure, this film has a certain je ne se quoi lurking beneath its surface that allows it to resonate with the primal feelings of its audience. To give voice to and better understand this je ne sais quoi itself, we must delve into the deeper meaning of Cobra’s plot where we will discover how it is the very precariousness of today’s social order itself that allows this film to resonate so clearly with its many fans. Moreover, it is this tuning into the horrifying sounds always bubbling beneath the surface of any great society that makes this action extravaganza a story worth telling.

The heart of Cobra’s action revolves around a burgeoning war between Cobra, as a representative of social order and justice, and a nascent New Order. Cobra’s New Order (first mentioned by the supermarket terrorist), as described by Wikipedia, is “a supremacist group of social Darwinist radicals that despise modern society and believe in killing the weak, leaving only the strongest and smartest to rule the world.”

This statement gives voice to Cobra’s overall moral compass. In the eyes of the New Order, our decrepit “modern society” allows the weak to flourish. Now, from a Christian moral standpoint, this is actually a “good” thing. For, Jesus Himself says “the meek shall inherit the earth”. Thus, continuing our journey through this world of morality, we must recognize Cobra’s New Order as a satanic force. This gives Cobra’s story a religious core. For, although Cobra himself functions on the outskirts of law and order, his goal is to protect the “weak” from the self-perceived “strong”. Whether those “strong” are so in objective fact or merely subjective opinion isn’t at issue. What remains is that Cobra is a “shepherd” protecting his “flock”. That flock being the entire city of Los Angeles, perhaps the entire United States, and by extension, perhaps, even the entire world.

The New Order being birthed in Los Angeles’s subterranean underbelly has the power to potentially reach anybody anywhere with its random acts of violence. Any one of us could be Ingrid Knudson, Cobra’s female protagonist hunted by the New Order for no apparent reason other than that she saw their leader, the Night Slasher himself, standing beside a broken down car earlier in the day she was first attacked. This chance encounter turned the devil’s gaze upon her. However, reason itself is a chimera in the New Order’s world. The New Order doesn’t need a reason to hunt anybody. Unlike in Cobra’s system of moral merit where the weak get special privilege to receive protection from the strong, the New Order alone determine who should survive. They have determined Ingrid Knudson to be weak and, therefore, not fit to live. Just as they determined the same for the citizens who happened to be shopping at that supermarket when the lone gunman entered. Just as they determine the same for all the Night Slasher’s hapless victims.

The social Darwinism espoused by the New Order wouldn’t be so terrifying if it weren’t the case that on some level many of us believe the New Order’s system to be “true”. We’re all the weak. There’s no such thing, in the world we inhabit, as the strong. We’re all potential victims of the circumstances of natural disease, and as Marion Cobretti himself says, that’s precisely what crime is: a disease. Like with any virus, it has no brain, no mind, no intention. None of us are immune to its vicissitudes. It might attack any one of us at any point in time. Perhaps, the most terrifying aspect of crime itself is its inherent randomness. There are certainly motivated crimes, but for many of us (whether it’s a result of breaking and entering, aggravated assault, and even rape or murder) it will happen randomly, destroying our senses of agency and making us feel as if we are weak regardless of how strong, either internally or externally, we may actually be.

For many of us, the causes of crime are as unknown as the New Order’s motivations. There may be social mechanisms at work when crimes occur, but we can’t see them in action. All we see are the results. This is the truth Cobra hits upon, and this is what Cobra is fighting against. We’re terrified we may actually be the weak simply because we aren’t strong enough to control our external worlds. However, no human being can control her external world. That’s what makes Cobra such a compelling character. Regardless of how terrifying the scenarios portrayed in this film may be, by means of his will and his weaponry, Cobra continuously controls his external world. He does this by turning the very violence we’re so afraid of back upon itself.

That’s what eventually creates such a mesmerizing final scene. Much like how the opening sequence’s rising sun symbolizes the terrifying future the New Order hopes to bring to fruition, as Cobra turns the tables on a fist fight with the Night Slasher and lifts the murderer onto a hook to send him screaming into a foundry’s flames, we see the primal solution to our fears branded onto celluloid. It’s violence that terrifies us, and it’s violence we believe will save us. Whether that’s true or not doesn’t matter. What matters is, on the level of primal justice, as Cobra’s cult status certainly proves, it rings true for the audience.

This leads to the ethical dilemma Cobra poses: Is violence required to combat violence? To return to our Biblical morality, the Hebrew Testament exhorts ancient Israeli citizens to take “an eye for an eye”. In this way, peaceful ends justify violent means. Social order justifies those who act outside that order in order to maintain it. However, there’s also always the more contemporary approximation of this Biblical ideology, often attributed to Mohandas Gandhi: “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind”. In this formulation, peaceful ends do not justify violent means. For, there is no end to the cycle of violence. In fact, using peaceful ends to justify violent means could potentially allow for the justification of any violence. The New Order themselves could make the claim that when their purge is complete a peaceful, well-ordered world will result. Therefore, they are the righteous. Those combatting them, Marion Cobretti included, are the wicked allowing this world’s current chaos to continue.

However, there’s another way to interpret the call of an eye for an eye, and that is the formulation that leads to salvation in William Friedkin’s 1973 film The Exorcist: “Evil shall see itself, and it shall die”. Perhaps, it’s not the act of violence itself that brings an end to violence, but rather, it’s the reflection of violence back upon itself that brings an end to violence. For, if evil shall see itself and it shall die, then violence shall see itself and it shall cease. Like multiplying two negatives together, violence reflected upon violence becomes a positive.

This formulation of “the law” is embodied in Marion Cobretti. For, it’s his overabundance of violence that brings an end to the New Order’s violence. Their psychopathy is reflected back upon them in the form of Marion Cobretti’s own compulsive sociopathy, and it destroys them. There’s no way for them to combat it. From the supermarket terrorist to the Night Slasher himself, they can only succumb. Now, whether this formulation of “the law” is true in abstract reality doesn’t matter. What matters is this appears to be the formulation of the law Cobra believes.

And this formulation of the law continues to gain adherents because we all see Cobra’s chaos bubbling beneath the surface of our stable societies. We see violence in the news. We know there are crimes occurring in the world beyond our doors because we fear they may strike our children on their way to school. On some level, we’re all afraid any one of us could be in that supermarket when the terrorist strikes. We believe in the necessity of Cobra. We believe violence must combat violence. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have a police force. We wouldn’t continue to enforce the death penalty. And we certainly wouldn’t condone the reality of war. Society’s stability is a piece of water-logged detritus we cling to while floating in a sea of chaos. We all know this. But does this make Cobra’s violence “right”? Will we continue to urge an eye for an eye, or will we finally insist we all must turn the other cheek?

Contemplating Death Metal: Cannibal Corpse as Memento Mori

One day, as I was walking down the street listening to death metal grinding through my earbuds, I began contemplating the appeal of immersing oneself in such dark subject matters. I’ve loved metal since I was a 10-year-old kid whose parents got divorced. My question at the moment was: Why did I turn to darkness for comfort amid my pain?

You might think when one is suffering emotionally, that person would prefer to forget her suffering and choose an artistically light response to the world instead. But that wasn’t the case for either my middle school friends or me. We immersed ourselves in horror – through the books we read, the movies we watched, and the music we listened to. Stephen King was our favorite author, A Nightmare on Elm Street our favorite film, and Slayer was our favorite band. We lived for death… at least in our art, and at that outer rim of childhood’s plateau, we invented play-worlds for ourselves as enmeshed in hell and fear as the art we consumed.

Now, the question I’m wondering is – Why would children embrace destruction so completely at the first sign of being exposed to this world’s greater suffering? My answer lies in a traditional form of artistic expression: Memento Mori.

Memento Mori is defined as a Latin phrase meaning: remember you must die. In the European artistic tradition, it is often portrayed by the contemplation of a skull reminding the viewer of death, an image not inconsistent with the artwork on the heavy metal tee shirts I wore to school every day as a young teen. At one point in time, there must have been perceived a great need for Memento Mori for it to have been elevated to such an important status in medieval and Renaissance art. I would like to make the claim it’s the same individual and cultural needs for Memento Mori that drove my own middle school love of horror movies and death metal.

“Remembering death” consistently reminds one that she must embrace life immediately rather than wait for the future. She must take advantage of the moment rather than hope for something better to come. She must live for today rather than tomorrow. For, tomorrow may never arrive. If that last turn of phrase sounds at all familiar, it’s because it’s a variation on the tail end of the ancient Epicurean dictum to “eat, drink, and be merry. For, tomorrow, you may die.” Along with Nietzsche’s claim that “God is dead”, this short, pithy statement is one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented phrases in the history of philosophy.

The notion that tomorrow you may die is not an exhortation to hedonism as contemporary culture so often wishes to impart. Rather, it is a potential reality to ponder and meditate upon. If today truly is your last day on earth, how would you prefer to spend it – obliterated on substances or caring for the people and things you cherish most? Would you rather be alone and destitute in your final hours, or would you prefer to live your last moments rich with family and friends as a loving and compassionate human being? The choice is yours. You don’t know the future. Today could be your last day on earth.

Memento Mori serves the same purpose. By contemplating death, the viewer is reminded she is alive only for the moment. Nothing is guaranteed in this life… other than the certainty of an eventual death. With the remembrance of this certainty of death, the viewer of Memento Mori desires the impermanence of life rather than the permanence of death. The viewer of Memento Mori strives to live today rather than seek solace in a world that may never come. This is the same insight the lyrics and intensity of a band like Cannibal Corpse provide the listener.

With album titles like Tomb of the Mutilated and Butchered at Birth, Cannibal Corpse’s world is nothing but a monument to the gruesomeness of death. The first track on their first album, Shredded Humans, paints a vivid picture of a head-on car collision. Describing in graphic detail everything from the father’s head becoming part of the dashboard to the mother’s intestines stretched across the road, these lyrics are an examination of everyday gore. However, the twist in this song is that this was not necessarily an “accident”. The words leave open the possibility that the driver who veered across the center line intended to kill this “family of five on their way home.”

Of course, this sounds like the cartoonish plot of a seventies splatter film, and many of those now-classic films might serve the same function as Cannibal Corpse’s music. In this instance, the appeal might be more than simply imagining vivid gore on the open road. Cannibal Corpse’s lyrics can cause the listener to wonder whether this same event may not take place in her life. This can shock the listener out of the stupor of taking the everyday for granted. It can cause the listener to wonder if she should perhaps take more care of the fragility of this life she has been blessed with.

The excessive violence of a track like Hammer Smashed Face is no exception. In this track, the narrator consistently describes his victim as “You”. You are the one the narrator feels “like killing”. You are the one whose “fucking head” will get smashed in “until brains seep”. And you are the one who will feel the sledge pound “down on your forehead”.

This violence mimics the death of a cow in a slaughterhouse. It dehumanizes the listener’s presence. It requires the listener to envision herself as the object of violence rather than as the subject of action. This reification causes the listener to experience something like the Kantian “sublime” as the sense of individual subjectivity rushes back in to fill the void at the song’s end. I am not an object, the listener’s mind screams. I am a human being.

This, too, provides a sense of Memento Mori. For, death itself is the eternal objectification. Your subjectivity has disappeared. What is left is nothing more than a body, a slab of meat to be buried or burnt. You have vanished. Your body remains to be tortured in a Cannibal Corpse song like I Cum Blood no differently than if your subjectivity were still present. However, the speaker of Cannibal Corpse’s lyrics never saw you as a subject. You were always only a slab of flesh waiting to be violated.

This perpetual violation of the body reminds the speaker she is more than a body. The revulsion and disgust felt at being referred to as A Skull Full of Maggots forces the listener to cry out she is alive. She is more than the meat Cannibal Corpse’s speaker sees her as. She is a human being who could be dead tomorrow, waiting only to be dug up and have her body tormented by another speaker from a different Cannibal Corpse song. This forces the listener to embrace her subjective existence today rather than put off a direct recognition of the self until tomorrow. For, if Cannibal Corpse has their way, tomorrow may never come.

Of course, one could make the claim that none of this violence is evidence of Memento Mori, that Cannibal Corpse’s lyrics are nothing more than adolescent fantasies. They serve no higher purpose. They have no meaning behind them. In response to this critique, I ask only that you look once more at my middle school friends and me to determine the purpose this sort of theatrical violence served for us.

We were leaving the womb of youth, afraid of the unknown, afraid of both the world bearing down upon us and the feelings bubbling up inside of us. We were afraid for the future, and we were terrified of our emotions. In the face of all this, we began acting out against our parents, schools, and peers. We had no choice but to define ourselves in reaction to the hostile world we were entering, and in the early 1990s, we chose death metal as the soundtrack for this rebellion against everything expected of us. Where does Memento Mori fit into all this fear and anger?

Memento Mori was developed as an artistic discipline in Europe during the medieval period, a time when the entire population faced something like the fears of adolescence. Under the banner of religion, the unknown lay at every citizen’s doorstep. Ruled by warlords and children, the stability of the region was in constant flux. With the simultaneous risks of either invasion or disease, terror lurked around every corner. The monuments to death provided by Memento Mori allowed the populace both to vent their fears and to band together in the face of the unknown.

One could just as easily say the consistent reminder of death was a ploy by the church to force the population deeper into religion’s embrace. However, even if this motivation existed for the artworks’ patrons, the psychological effects of the art itself doesn’t change. Even if the goal is to terrify the populace into subservience, the experience of the Kantian “sublime” still exists for the citizen who sees her subjective experience leech away in the face of the contemplation of a dead man’s skull, only to have that same subjective experience reappear with greater force upon the realization that death has yet to arrive.

Cannibal Corpse provided the same bulwark for my middle school friends and me. By listening to the gruesome lyrics of a Cannibal Corpse song, we could look death in the face and tell it we weren’t afraid. In this way, we could tell the entire world we had nothing to fear. For, there is nothing more terrifying than the constant reality of death. By sharing the listening experience with our peers, we could stand against these terrors and recognize that together we were alive. Together, our individual, subjective existences were safe against the horrors of a serial killer or Necropedophile from one of Cannibal Corpse’s songs. We could relish our subjective existences. For, our shared artistic experience insulated us from the vagaries of the objective world beyond our control.

Kneel Down Ye Sinners: Enlightenment in Mötley Crüe’s Girls, Girls, Girls

With the opening lines to Wild Side – “Kneel down ye sinners, to / Streetwise religion…” – L.A. glam metal band Mötley Crüe kicks off their 1987 album, Girls, Girls, Girls. But what exactly is this “streetwise religion” to which lead singer Vince Neil is referring, and how precisely are these “sinners” that bassist and lyricist Nikki Sixx mentions supposed to find “salvation” amid his band’s excessive branch of some rock n roll “religion” he’s discovered on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip in the late 1980s? The answers to these questions are revealed throughout the sordid stories contained in the rest of this album’s tracks – tales of drugs, underage sex, and murder. By unearthing these discoveries, we paint a timely portrait of “romantic” danger that has colored the collective vision of many young artists ever since the French poet Charles Baudelaire gave birth to the notion of “modernity” as a definition for our fragmentary, ephemeral times. The question we must ask ourselves, however, is – Is there any inherent “value” for the “modern” individual in examining these portraits of suffering and escape from suffering that Mötley Crüe, in keeping with the urban artists of many other recent eras, paints on this album?

This reference to Charles Baudelaire with regard to the lyrics of Mötley Crüe is by no means spurious. For, it is Charles Baudelaire himself who has captivated more than 150 years’ worth of audiences with his seedy poems of the Parisian underbelly. In fact, it is this Paris of Baudelaire’s era that has become the archetypal urban landscape for many “modern” artists: the psychologically disturbing reality of a man-made monstrosity’s constant flux. Tales of drugs, sex, and Satan dominate Baudelaire’s conceits. He was and is taken seriously as an artist, though, not because of the darkness of his subject matter, but rather due to the rigors of his form and the musicality of his language. However, in light of his structural beauty, it appears to be Baudelaire’s shocking subject matter that has continued to seduce many young thinkers into wishing they were, as William Blake put it in his infamous The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, “a true Poet and of the Devil’s party”.

Certainly, the members of Mötley Crüe viewed themselves as a band of Blake’s “true poets”. For, the inner sleeve photo of their debut album, Too Fast For Love, reveals them in S&M garb amid skulls and burning candles, pointing at an inverted pentagram, the symbol for Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan, hanging over them. A fitting image to declare one’s allegiance to “the Devil’s party”. In fact, when looking at this image, we cannot but think of Baudelaire’s “Thrice-Majestic Satan” reclining “on his wicked pillow” and “vaporizing the rich metal of our souls”, which appears to be the precise operation Nikki Sixx eventually describes through the songs composing the band’s fourth full-length album Girls, Girls, Girls: the complete annihilation of the human spirit. However, we must go on to ask ourselves the more pertinent questions of – What is the actual value of destroying the inner self? And does this annihilation of the self by means of debauchery lead one to the same point of “enlightenment” that the mystics of many religious traditions have claimed to attain when annihilating the self by other means?

With regard to our first question, the act of destroying the inner self, at least according to Buddhist sentiment, is a cessation of the suffering associated with life. Therefore, the goal of destroying the inner self is to cease the individual’s emotional suffering. If we look back at the lyrics of the songs composing the album Girls, Girls, Girls¸ our attention must be drawn to the repeated words of the song Nona, the only lyrics in the song – “Nona, I’m out of my head without you,” repeated over and over, again and again. As I’ve learned from outside sources, this song is a reference to Nikki Sixx’s grandmother who had recently passed away at the time of this album’s recording. Thus, we have revealed the true root of the speaker’s suffering. The root of this suffering is the realization of death. Furthermore, it is this same realization of death that the speaker is trying to escape by means of the annihilation of the inner self.

With regard to our second question as to whether or not this annihilation of the self leads to the same sort of “enlightenment” as a religious experience, we must first ask ourselves what the experience of annihilation would feel like in a religious context. Buddhist Nirvana is a desirable state to be achieved as an escape from the suffering associated with life. If we read the lyrics of Girls, Girls Girls, particularly those of Nona, we discover that this album also reveals a desire for escape from suffering. Therefore, the root causes of both attempts at escape (both through debauchery and through asceticism) is the same. However, although the causes may be the same, the end results could be completely different.

The question we must examine at this point is whether the attempt to annihilate suffering through pleasure actually alleviates one’s internal suffering or if it simply creates more of it. This will answer our question as to whether the points reached through both debauchery and asceticism are one and the same. The answer to this question resides in the lyrics to the song Dancing on Glass, which starts by saying: “Can’t find my doctor / My bones can’t take the ache / If ya dance with the devil / Your day will come to pay”. This song is dealing with the realities of heroin addiction and a subsequent withdrawal from the substance. For our purposes, the most telling line in this verse is the last: “Your day will come to pay”.

This final line reveals an internal point of suffering reached solely because the “doctor” (or drug dealer) is unavailable at the moment to provide more of the needed substance. Therefore, it appears the practitioner of this streetwise religion has been misled. The internal suffering will not cease through debauchery. It will only be temporarily removed. Then, it will come roaring back with a vengeance so strong your “bones can’t take the ache” as a result of withdrawal from the now required substances. These substances are now “required” due to the addiction necessitating the self’s further annihilation. This would lead one to the conclusions that the debauchery Nikki Sixx describes on this album, as a means for cessation of suffering, is a series of actions the Buddhists would perhaps characterize as “misguided”.

Does that mean the history of modern art’s “debauchery” from Baudelaire to the present is a misguided attempt at enlightenment? Perhaps, one could turn to the writer Flannery O’Connor for an attempt to answer that question. In a letter she wrote to Dr. T.R. Spivey, with regard to those progenitors of the American aesthetic of sex and drugs, the beat poets, she once said, “They call themselves holy but holiness costs and so far as I can see they pay nothing.” Perhaps, for Ms. O’Connor, the “payment” required is the chastity permeating many religious attempts to alleviate this life’s suffering, something that the easily found pleasures of sex and drugs does not require. For, if payment is required, the physical transactions of cash for sex and/or drugs as described in Mötley Crüe’s Girls, Girls, Girls¸ is not the kind of fee a Catholic writer such as Ms. O’Connor would have had in mind.

Ms. O’Connor would have been referring to some sort of spiritual toll to be collected, which one who has chosen the simple escape of physical pleasures has not yet paid. However, it very well could be the case that the debauchery of physical pleasure is the precise spiritual toll one must pay to find enlightenment. For, although enlightenment will not be found in the escape brought about by physical pleasures, the increased suffering of intense physical pleasure (a suffering caused by the eventual removal of that physical pleasure and the body’s simultaneous craving for even more of that same pleasure) could lead one to search even harder for the answer to the cessation of that suffering. For, as another Catholic thinker, St. Thomas Aquinas, implies in his Summa Theologiae, Question 109, Article 6, a human being can further turn God’s divine grace upon oneself by first seeking out God. Perhaps, that itself is the devil’s job in the marriage of heaven and hell – to lead the sinner closer to God by increasing her suffering so severely her peace can only be attained through any means necessary.

It’s no small fact that Nikki Sixx got clean from drugs and alcohol shortly after the release of Girls, Girls, Girls. Perhaps, then, the spiritual value of “streetwise religion”, is the precise dilemma Goethe’s Mephistopheles explains himself to be at the opening of that author’s play Faust: Part I. For, Mephistopheles declares he is, “Part of the Power, not understood, / Which always wills the Bad, and always works the Good.” Perhaps, this is the value to be found in “streetwise religion” for any individual from any time, whether that individual be Charles Baudelaire, William Blake, or Nikki Sixx. The value of the religion one finds in the streets is that, if the practitioner can survive, it attunes the individual to the higher frequencies of the universe in an attempt to help that individual escape the infernal depths of this world.

Skynet and Zen: The Past, The Future, and The Terminator

“God, a person could go crazy thinking about this…” Sarah Connor says at the end of James Cameron’s film The Terminator in a recording she will eventually pass on to her unborn son, John. Sarah knows her son will grow into a man named John Connor simply because the film’s other main protagonist, Kyle Reese, has already informed her that this boy, who he himself never knew he was destined to be the father of, is the same man who sent Kyle back from the future to protect Sarah herself. For, as Sarah said to Kyle earlier in the film, “Well, at least now I know what to name him.”

This last statement of Sarah’s begs the question that if Sarah had named her son something other than “John Connor”, would the future have turned out differently? Would there have even been a Skynet if there’d never been a “John” Connor? Is there a different “possible” world? And how many changes to the existent world does it take to create a different “possible” one? Perhaps, Sarah even considered this, and perhaps, she concluded that since she didn’t have any control over the building and programming of Skynet, she should at least give her son the name he would need to eventually defeat Skynet.

We, of course, are aware that Kyle Reese’s statement about Sarah Connor being in hiding before the war is in fact coming to fruition by the end of the movie. We get a chance, in the film’s final frames, to see the picture taken of Sarah that Kyle eventually falls in love with in the future. So we know that, in this instance at least, the future is the past is the future.

Unlike John Connor (who must have his own unique understanding of time due to his mother’s tapes concerning his origin), however, Skynet, as fully aware of an operating system as it may have become, never appears to become aware that the future it lived in was merely a precursor to the past it grew out of. Leaving aside, for the moment, the question as to whether a self-aware artificial intelligence, with its massive computing power, might not have reached this same conclusion on its own, the question we must ask is: What sort of “vision” of time is necessary to allow the events of James Cameron’s film to take place?

If the past becomes the future and the future turns into the past, the first thing we should accept is that a being who steps “outside” the system we know of as time would not witness a linear progression through what we’ve come to think of as our linguistic tenses. Rather, that being would view a “static” image where past, present, and future are happening simultaneously. As if everything we experience were merely a Renaissance fresco on The Vatican’s wall. This “being” sounds an awful lot like some sort of Newtonian physics God existing in “absolute” time and space. We will, however, leave aside theological considerations at this moment.

Instead, we will admit that this same concept of a “static” time was envisioned by Kurt Vonnegut in his 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five, where the author introduces us to the multi-dimensional beings he himself invented, the Tralfamadorians. In this instance, the Tralfamadorians offer us a much clearer picture to begin reasoning from than theological abstraction. For, with both The Terminator and Slaughterhouse-Five, we are safely in the realms of (relatively) recent pop culture, rather than a distant, “proto-scientific” cosmology. There is a slight difference, however, between Slaughterhouse-Five’s visions of the Tralfamadorians and The Terminator’s conception of time travel.

Like the philosopher’s God Himself, the Tralfamadorians exist in a Newtonian “absolute” space where time is seen from an external vantage – although, they eventually interfere in a very real way with “time” in the way that we do actually perceive it (that, however, is the subject of another meditation). On the other hand, Kyle Reese, from his own perspective, has come to be in the past via the future. In fact, one could even say he’s “transmigrated” from the future to the past, but unlike in any sort of Tibetan conception of Bardo realms, Kyle Reese comes from one very real point on the space-time continuum to another very real point on the space-time continuum. Relatively, however, he’s remained at rest. For, he’s still Kyle Reese at both points.

We can juxtapose The Terminator’s concept of time with the concept of time in another film from the same era of the mid-1980s, Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future. As opposed to the Tralfamadorian vision of time as a static fresco, Back to the Future indulges in a conceptual fantasy more akin to “possible worlds” theory. For, in Back to the Future (as opposed to The Terminator), we see an actual representation of Kyle Reese’s quote that, “The future is not set.”

With the simple change of a single event in the McFly family’s past (namely George McFly finally standing up to his lifelong bully, Biff), the entire scenario of future events has spun off into an entirely different direction. In the future at the film’s end, George McFly is a wealthy man and Biff works for him, rather than the other way around. This appears an illustration of the meditation that “nearly possible worlds” exist given a different set of counterfactual variants.

If we look at the premise upon which we’ve come to our realization of “possible” futures, we could say that the “possible worlds” variant offers us an increasingly positive worldview. Of course, at one point in Back to the Future, Marty McFly was on the verge of un-creating himself in a different possible world. However, the knowledge that multiple possible worlds could come into effect given a different set of variants should supply us with some solace regarding our own eventual destruction. Perhaps, there’s even a world where we don’t die, where we live forever, and where everything is at peace. This should offer us some comfort amid our current “possible” world’s suffering.

The Terminator (as well as Vonnegut’s Tralfamadorians), on the other hand, appears a working example of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s “theory of eternal recurrence”, which wonders if a demon were to ask you if you wanted to live your life innumerable times over would you say, “Yes”? Without answering the specific question of whether or not Nietzsche was at all serious that his theory of eternal recurrence was how the world actually operates, at the very least, we can take it as a given that The Terminator’s cosmology has accepted this tenet. Therefore, we can easily admit, given the suffering inherent to the world we inhabit (and the world John Connor is eventually born into), that this view of eternal recurrence is not the intellectual soporific that possible worlds theory can be.

For its part, Skynet, although it developed the means to manipulate one’s linear passage through time, never seemed to see the world in line with the Tralfamadorians through the lens of a tangible enactment of Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence. If it did, it never would have assumed it could quash humanity’s rebellion simply by killing Sarah Connor. Instead, it would have realized its time machine was rather a suicide machine.

This leads us to the question, then, that we alluded to earlier and that we must ask ourselves now, which is: If by some means of self-aware circuitry, Skynet were aware that eternal recurrence was the case, as Vonnegut’s Tralfamadorians seem to perceive it to be, then was Skynet already aware that by building a time machine it was merely committing suicide? Should we, perhaps, be wondering if Skynet has come to an acceptance of the vagaries of what human beings perceive as the maddening flux of past, present, and future? This sense of peace amid flux could even resemble something akin to Buddhist enlightenment. Therefore, should we be asking ourselves – Is Skynet in Zen? However, if Skynet is in “Zen”, was it this same acceptance of the world’s necessity that allowed Skynet to be as calculatingly cold as it needed to be to bring such a horrid future into existence in the first place?

That the future Kyle Reese comes from is horrible cannot be denied. We see images throughout the film of machines rolling over piles of human bones. We see the degradation humanity has been reduced to during Sarah’s dream when she sleeps in Kyle’s arms in the drainpipe where they’re hiding from The Terminator. We understand the bleak world vision Kyle comes back to the past with through his own gestures, expressions, and imaginings of Sarah’s own death. This is the future – this world of constant suffering – waiting for humanity in Skynet’s own, personal Zen. But this could be the world waiting for all of us in any “being’s” enlightened mindset.

This flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom claims “enlightenment” is a place of peace. Going one step further, the concept of enlightenment itself is often defined by the “peace” its practitioner has found. In other words, if the being claiming to be enlightened does not exhibit a certain evident serenity, then most people would say that being has not found the enlightenment she is seeking. In fact, many might even say that being is, as the Buddha himself would put it, deluded. This statement, however, has no backing evidence in the texts humanity’s original understanding of the nebulous concept of enlightenment comes from.

Enlightenment is defined in many ways in many different texts. However, the most common early definitions of enlightenment appear to define the concept as a cessation of mental energies: nirvana. This means the enlightened being has stopped thinking about the world. Instead, she merely experiences the world in a detached state. This detached state of experience sounds like it could even be the dissociative properties of certain trauma-induced mental disorders such as borderline personality disorder. One might even go so far as to say the enlightened being could be in a constant state of PTSD.

For, if life itself is a sort of trauma, enlightenment is the coping mechanism. Whether Skynet has reached this point of passivity amid flux is not obvious at all from the first film in The Terminator franchise. Skynet is merely a peripheral character in this film. At the very least, we must admit that if Skynet is aware of the paradoxes associated with time travel, this artificial intelligence has solved Nietzsche’s riddle and answered, “Yes,” to the question of life’s eternal recurrence.

My Untimely Meditations

X.

Hebrew is like a veil being rent asunder. I see the world backwards, from the other side of the page. Suddenly, I see English from the other side of the page as well.

Greek forces me to meditate on the sound and symbol as well as the process of thought: the order of words.

Chinese is a reflection on meaning.

French? How could something so similar be so different? Even to the point of sounds of familiar letters… even to the point of putting articles where my “native” tongue has none.

I don’t need to publish anything. It was always a journey of self-discovery.

For so long I thought every moment was worth saving… was worth sharing. That was the flaw of my artistic theory.

IX.

It seems to me that the purpose of zazen is, maybe, to make what we have come to refer to as unconscious thought processes into what we know as “conscious” thought processes. With the unconscious conscious, the unconscious becomes controllable. Controllable, we gain power over our inner lives. Gaining power over our inner lives, we attain self-mastery. Mastering the self, the external world no longer has control over us by appealing to previously “unconscious” drives. Maybe, it’s time for me to start zazen again.

VIII.

What is thought does not have to be actualized. That is desire. What, then, is thought?

It’s not the shoddiness of Freud’s system that matters; rather, it is the structure that it engendered: evidence of the self-perpetuation of a human idea (false).

VII.

Logic is limited. The question remains: Does logic express the actual way in which thoughts are connected by the mind? Also, does logical symbolization exhaust the possibility of how thoughts are expressed within the mind itself? The further questions of cause and effect, existence and non-existence are still perplexing.

VI.

Might it not be the case that in his merging of Nietzsche and Spinoza, Gilles Deleuze is bringing together the great post-Pythagorean argument between Heraclitus and Parmenides (strife and monism)?

V.

Physics is the determining factor in the European intellectual tradition. And physics as metaphor becomes the basis for European logic.

Why did physics take hold in Greece?

IV.

How can one build in the nothing? How do we make our first step? Where do we land? How does one find an authentic point from which to begin? Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, even Freud… Plato, Aristotle, Confucius… Descartes…

Something happened to me once upon a time. I don’t know what it was.

III.

Philosophy must be overcome.

II.

What is the subject is the question.

I.

It is evident that what underlies this world is nothing.

א.

Logic is absurd.