Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Black Flame

Essential to my approach to Surrealism is the concept of "the Black Flame."

The Black Flame is a symbol of the Satanic essence. It is used to describe the diabolical spark that distinguishes Satanists from other types of humans. I offer here an elaboration upon this concept that I find true and useful.

Integral to this concept is the idea of the Dark Force. As explained in the Satanic Bible, the Dark Force is an "untapped reservoir" of power, a "many faceted key to the unknown -- which the Satanist chooses to call "Satan" (p. 62). This is the unique energy that the Satanist identifies and develops within himself or herself for the fulfillment of desires and the enhancement of experiences. It is not a "spirit," but a consequence of successful alignment with one's individual nature and with the nature of the universe.

The Black Flame is the Dark Force as harnessed by an individual Satanist.

When directed outward, the Black Flame opens everything around it to doubt and its attendant mysteries. An accomplice of the imagination, the Black Flame can enhance everything from playful fantasy to scientific experimentation.Through what I call "umbration", it can introduce the dynamics of Darkness into even the most stagnant ideas.

The Black Flame also functions inwardly, drawing into the Satanist, its generator and host, the myriad stimuli of profound indulgence. Delicious foods, sexual fulfillment, potent knowledge, unique experiences, and other objects of desire are like iron filings before an electromagnet to those charged with the Black Flame.

Just as the color black absorbs the full spectrum of visible light, so the Satanist, ablaze with the Black Flame, takes in the diverse delights of his or her self-centered universe.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Darkness and the Devil

“It is only doubt which will bring mental emancipation. Without the wonderful element of doubt, the doorway through which truth passes would be tightly shut, impervious to the most strenuous poundings of a thousand Lucifers.”

-Anton Szandor LaVey

Darkness is a term with myriad implications, many of which can be seen as thoroughly positive. What, however, are we to make of the popular definition of Darkness as a symbol of evil?

Devils and demons have been used by many religions to personify that which their adherents think of as bad. Devils have been blamed for countless ills and conflicts, from diseases to differences in religious beliefs. They represent what people hate and fear. When people cannot understand something, they often fear it. They use faith to ground themselves in whatever cosmos they prefer to live in.

This begins to explain the relationship of Darkness to evil in most popular mythology and symbolism. It reveals the role of faith in all matters of understanding. Trust in certain absolutes stabilizes one's thoughts. Without this stability, one is thrust into the Darkness without the "Light" of knowing, of knowledge. (It may be said that wisdom is the marriage of knowledge to the unknown, of Light to Darkness.) In the context of religion, the uncertainty within Darkness often manifests as devils causing death, illness, or the loss of faith. The devils are the catalysts for change - at least change perceived as negative.

Light is often associated with “God”. Actually, it can be applied to the very meaning of Lucifer, the "Bearer of Light" who, in Christian mythology, "falls" into Darkness. If it is said that Satan leads one astray from the path of Light to that of Darkness, we can apply this mythology in the statement: Lucifer descended into Darkness; therefore, Darkness holds the Light. This statement also mythicizes the descent of light into the color black, which absorbs the infinite colors of the visible spectrum. The metaphor can also be extended to the association of Satan with selfishness, gluttony, and other attitudes that promote indulgence over abstinence. White, by reflecting light away from itself, can therefore represent the denial of this symbolic Lucifer. It illustrates the emptiness of abstinence both physical and mental.

Anton Szandor LaVey, who founded the Church of Satan in 1966, codified Satanism as a religion that rejected the worship of any god above oneself. While it has often been misunderstood, sensationalized, and minimized, the philosophy of his organization is a powerful and intelligent tool to be used to its adherents’ advantage rather than to make them pious or servile. On page 40 of the Satanic Bible, LaVey offered an atheistic interpretation of “God”, describing it as “the balancing factor in nature” that “permeates and balances the universe,” also referring to it as “impersonal.” On page 62, LaVey defines Satan as representative of “a force of nature” and calls it a “many faceted key to the unknown - which the Satanist chooses to call ‘Satan.’”

Satanic philosophy, which is the foundation of these studies, does not in any way encourage the misery often symbolized by devils in mainstream mythology. Rather, Satanists use Satan as a symbol of, among many other healthy principles, doubt. By embracing doubt, one can tap into the infinite possibilities of Darkness and become a Creator. This summarizes the relationship of my heretical Surrealism to Satanic principles.

Light and Darkness are used here as symbols of aspects of our universe, not of good and evil as human cultures tend to identify them. They are not even conscious entities - they are concepts. They are only as valuable as one chooses to make them.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Modern Abyss

Modernity was a child of the Abyss. The writers, painters, and musicians of the modern age all struggled with it to varying degrees. For some, it was just another subject; others focused almost exclusively on that most profound problem. In Baudelaire’s anxiety, in Nietzsche’s Will, and in Surrealism’s liberation there is a common presence: that of a "God" dying, dead, or disintegrating, his death unleashing another boundless void for each perishing atom of his absoluteness. Where faith had imposed its ancient forms, there suddenly gaped freedom as infinite as the power of that once omnipotent "God". Rationalism killed that deity; logic gave him a ghost. (The pragmatism implied in rationalism is lost in logic, which is capable of destructive infinities and provides a firm foundation for the irrational.) The ghost of "God" looms over modernity in the form of a void, of Chaos, of the Abyss.

From the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth, artists and other intellectuals experimented with forms intended to combat or consummate the Chaos left over after the loss of the absolutist paradigm theretofore at the heart of many social constructs. Symbolism, Nietzsche, and Surrealism concerned themselves very directly with the Abyss, each treating it as either a burden to overcome or source to embrace.

Nietzsche described man as “a rope, tied between beast and overman—a rope over an abyss” (Zarathustra, 14). He advocated self-overcoming, a process that makes use of abyssal awareness as an instrument of evolution. The creative individualist, armed with a strong Will, seeks to conquer a part of this infinite freedom, thereby snatching wisdom from the chasm on the way towards the overman. A living micro-abyss, the overman is unhindered by morality, submissiveness, and other dictates of his omnipotent, omniscient, now defunct predecessor.

Before "God" died, Charles Baudelaire experienced an abyss designed by him, described in this quatrain from “the Abyss”:

On all sides around me shores are descending…

Silence… terrible, terrifying Space…

At night I watch God’s knowing finger trace

Unending nightmares on the dark unending

(Flowers of Evil, 194).

Baudelaire’s God is part of the Abyss, or rather is part Abyss. Where faith fails the poet, infinite darkness creeps in, disfiguring the moribund deity. A hostile "Almighty" now exploits the void in his absolutist form, conceiving horrors for the faithless as he dies. By the time we reach Nietzsche, we have an immense corpse to deal with:

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto (The Gay Science, 181).

This question, here posed by a fictional madman in a narrative, nonetheless expresses much of Nietzsche’s relationship to this Abyss. It is also an enduring question for the arts, even today. It is now hidden, however, behind language that eschews not only "God, but the Abyss as well. When a contemporary artist conquers his or her bit of infinity and flaunts it in a show of individualism, that artist possesses some degree of the new "divine" spark epitomized in the total conflagration of the Abyss.

Writing, whether prose or poetry, may be the most thorough means of conveying the abyssal essence of modernity. Depicted through words, abstractions can be as limited or boundless as the writer chooses. However, words are not the only medium used by modern intellectuals in confronting the Abyss.

Painters were among the most prominent Symbolists and Surrealists. Both of these movements found expression in multiple media; thus, the Abyss tackled by poets such as Stéphane Mallarmé and André Breton also manifested in the art of Edvard Munch and Salvador Dalí. Although their paintings and drawings are unable to delineate the abyssal condition with all the accuracy of writing, their visual reconciliation of form and formlessness has a more direct, highly sensory impact. This corresponds with Nietzsche’s prescription that one must appeal to the senses in order to teach abstract truths (Beyond Good and Evil, 50).

Dalí produced extraordinary examples of the synthesis between metaphysical chaos and sensual form. His "materio-mysticism", to use Anna Balakian’s term, sought absolutes of increasing polarity from the very beginning of his Surrealist oeuvre. He also dealt with the Abyss directly, in writing, with an inventive caveat for the modern artist:

Velásquez and Vermeer were divisionists in their time. They intuited modern angst. Today, the most talented, most sensitive painters merely communicate the angst of indeterminism. Modern science tells us nothing actually exists… So there is nothing abnormal about some painters making their pictures out of nothing. But that is only a transitional phase. The great painter must know how to assimilate the nothingness into his picture. And that nothingness is what will give life to tomorrow’s great art (Maniac Eyeball, 271).

This seems to speak directly to the Abstract Expressionists. Influenced by Surrealism, they not only sought form for the formless, but often captured formlessness itself. The Abstract Expressionist’s proximity to Chaos may seem closer to the Abyss than the precise realism of Dalí. Here is where the relationship between our subject and this medium grow surprisingly complicated, though easily described.

The boundless infinitude of the Abyss encapsulates every possibility and potential impossibility. Growing out of the limitations of human knowledge, it represents everything within and beyond perception and imagination. Therefore, one could claim anything at all as a fragment of the Abyss. A visual abstraction can elicit responses more divergent than any verbal abstraction. That is because, like music, its language is much more open than that of words. Especially today, when subjectivity is prized above the attempted purity of the Abstract Expressionists, the meaning of a brush stroke has a more potentially varied meaning than most words, perhaps including the word “abyss”. Indeed, there is more culturally inherent meaning in a musical chord than in a streak or field of paint.

Music has the advantage of being a purely sensual abstraction. It may be the art that expresses most directly the artist’s feelings about his or her abyssal awareness. Regardless of the patterns imposed upon sounds by musicians, music achieves its life through entropy and is therefore an art of chaos. The instrument’s vibrations stir the air and jostle the eardrum, leaving the brain to interpret any form within the unseen agitations. As with any art, this can take on greater or lesser degrees of apparent organization. The form of Mozart, though inherently part of the abyssal chaos, does not convey a sense of it as that of John Cage. The definition of the Abyss is intellectual; its conveyance is, for lack of a more decisive word, mystical.

André Breton, who established the principles followed by the Surrealists in all media, conjured abyssal imagery in his mystical prescription of “throwing ourselves, without knowing how to swim, into the water, and without believing in the phoenix, plunging into the fire to reach this truth” (Manifestoes of Surrealism, 163). Nietzsche, on the other hand, declared, “We possess art lest we perish of the truth” (The Will to Power, 435). Both of these thinkers acknowledge the hazards of the Abyss, but they essentially contradict each other in their approach to handling it. Nietzsche saw art as protection from this destructive truth, whereas Breton used art in his attempts to lure the mind into it. This Surrealist mysticism is an attempt at a godless sublime. This strain of Surrealist activity sought to abolish all sensory differentiation and induce a sense of universal union that can only be described as abyssal. Breton and Nietzsche also agree in a way, for by embracing the Abyss as a source of creative potential one necessarily opposes it. The Surrealist embrace of the formless Abyss through art is a redemptive nihilism, simultaneously proclaiming the meaninglessness of the void and affirming the joy of expanding into it.

The Abyss is not only to be found in such extreme examples. All dissatisfaction with artistic mimesis stems from an awareness of the human lack of omniscience. Wherever there is an unknown, there are infinite possibilities. Dalí sought to trace the ancestry of such disorienting and apparently modern themes back to Velásquez and Vermeer, discouraging most modern abstraction. Today, however, the abyssal chaos seems to find its embodiment primarily in the nearly complete fragmentation of creative discourse. Are artists growing closer to being overmen? Is each affirming his Will as his own law (Zarathustra, 63), or is there only narcissism?

These examples only begin to outline the origins and potentialities of the Abyss. Since extends into the unfathomable, modernity’s house-of-cards foundation can scarcely be defined, and its infinite breadth makes it difficult to locate culturally with legitimate authoritativeness. It nonetheless remains clear that any serious inquiry regarding the modern—or postmodern—condition must, at some point, face the faceless Abyss.

“And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee” (Beyond Good and Evil, 52).


Baudelaire, Charles. Marthiel and Jackson Mathews, Eds. The Flowers of Evil. New York: New Directions, 1989.

Breton, André. Manifestoes of Surrealism. Trans. Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane. University of Michigan: Ann Arbor Paperbacks, 1972.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Trans. Helen Zimmern. Beyond Good and Evil. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Trans. Walter Kauffman. The Gay Science. Random House, 1974.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Walter Kauffman, Ed. The Will to Power. New York: Random House, 1968.

Monday, September 8, 2008

On the Origin of Abstractions

All abstractions originate from perceptible facts, all of which can be distilled through analogies into versatile concepts. After undergoing this analogical distillation, these cognitive essences fit into innumerable contexts, thereby revealing consistency among disconnected relationships. Every sound abstraction is thus illustrated by something that can be perceived with the five physical senses.

For example: In an unlit room, darkness opens infinite possibilities. As long as the contents of that darkness remain unknown, they are a chaos of ambivalence. The concept of infinite possibilities is derived from realities that, like this one, introduce uncertainties, all of which can be taken to theoretical or hypothetical extremes.

In another context, infinite possibilities become apparent through a simple analysis of light. The number of steps between red and the slightest touch of yellow is infinite; therefore, the range of these imperceptibly different colors is illustrative of infinite possibilities within the finite.

The symbol known as an inverted pentagram, shown below, exalts physical reality, embodied in the four elements of fire, air, earth, and water. These are placed above a single point, representative of "spirit", mind, or will. This pentagram may thus symbolize the supremacy of the material universe, whose laws govern intangibles and abstractions, which are just another point in an inextricably connected physical reality.

"Transcendence" begins and ends with material fact, which provides unknowns that fuel the imagination. The universe and its possibilities are contained entirely within matter, energy, and the ideas derived from them.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A Feather in the Abyss

Despite their ostensibly antithetical properties, there is a profound link between macabre aesthetics and works of humorous nonsense. The latter, traditionally presented in the context of literary nonsense, is often associated with mere amusement. It has much more complex implications, however, and embodies principles similar to those of gothic imagery.

The connection between the macabre and nonsense is darkness, which is a rich metaphor loaded with manifold cultural meanings. The most literal and fundamental of these is that of unlit spaces. Modern life, especially in cities, has lost much of its ancient relationship with light and shadow. Before the ubiquitous and unceasing presence of electric light, the absence of illumination was much more threatening. The predators of the nocturnal wilderness, both human and beast, could stalk their victims or prey unseen under the void of the new moon. Elsewhere, faint light could trick the eyes so that harmless objects were transformed into menacing spectres. The human brain, designed to recognize patterns and forms, will tend to find its own grotesque truths at the threshold between perception and mystery.

The human imagination is a synthesis of memory and possibility. It provides access to a spectrum ranging from the realistic to the absurd to the mystical. Fueled by the unknown, the imagination is able to conjure equal portions of pleasure and horror. It is horror that inspires stronger emotions, however, as it is more connected to vital instincts. Humorous absurdity, which relies on more intellectual processes, has less to do with human survival than the macabre. Thus even the most lighthearted products of culture have currents of dread coursing through them.

There is an abundance of horror in even superficial readings of the highly refined nonsense penned by Lewis Carroll. A highly advanced, professional mathematician, Carroll invokes darkness through a calculated upsetting of the intellect. His darkness is the result of intellectual collisions. Lewis Carroll utilizes logic to its own detriment and for our amusement. This reliance upon intellectual rigor distances Carroll from the darkness he unleashes.

Edward Lear, born twelve years before Lewis Carroll, dealt with a much purer nonsense imbued with a more rarefied apprehension and a more immediate delight. His Book of Nonsense was first published in 1846, nineteen years before the publication of Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. His exceedingly absurd poems and limericks are accompanied by his own deliberately crude illustrations. The might of his pen is found not at the writing end of the quill, but in the feather, which he uses to tickle our minds—violently. His line drawings plunge the imagination into the inky depths of its own abyssal well.

The brash silliness of Lear's verse and illustration betrays a gleefully sadistic treatment of rational forms that came as naturally to Lear as it does to his intended audience—children. This cathartic violation fulfills Lear’s fantasy of disturbing the Victorian era’s God-induced sobriety, which he expressed directly in proclaiming that “The uniform apathetic tone assumed by lofty society irks me dreadfully” continuing, “nothing I long for half so much as to giggle heartily and to hop on one leg down the great gallery—but I dare not” (Edward Lear, by Angus Davidson, p. 17). This impish impulse is sublimated in his nonsensical creations, which rank highly as examples of violent , yet indulgent illogicalism.

By shrouding literal or abstract perceptions, darkness opens a door to legion possibilities, to multifarious fragments of inexhaustible chaos. At opposing poles of emotional responses to this limitlessness are delirious ecstasy and consuming despair.

The yield of these principles, explored through nonsense literature's playful reconciliation of opposites, is as boundless as the tunnel perceived in mirrors that, facing each other, show opposite sides of the object between them, simultaneously and continuing beyond possible comprehension.

Imagination is the sole domain of abstractions, regardless of their rationalism or absurdity. What, however, are the limits of the imagination? The imagination does not have limitless power. Even if we were armed with an inconceivable set of senses other than those currently available to us, imagination would possess an infinite store of possibilities just as it does now. It is the constant presence of the unknown as a variable in an equation equaling infinity that ensures the immortality of imagination in the conscious mind. The only threat to imagination is omniscience.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Mystery — NOT Mysticism.

Mysticism is folly. Existence, as perceived via the five senses, is permeated with unknowns, but none of them are supernatural.

Unexpected, bizarre new discoveries are just as natural as the most commonplace objects and circumstances. That which is highly unlikely or impossible according to current scientific understanding should be regarded with appropriate suspicion.

Mystery extends endlessly into the profound. Mystical faith cuts mystery off by asserting knowledge, however "transcendental", or by imposing necessarily arbitrary forms upon the incomprehensible.

Mystery and its infinite possibilities begin not with the unlikely, but with the very simple. Anything that is not known is, of course, unknown. This ranges from the minuscule to the massive — from the world beyond blinking eyelids, to the thoughts of minds beyond one's own, to that which outdistances our gaze into the cosmos.

Every unknown hosts infinite possibilities. Any single part of the universe has innumerable possible relationships to any and all other parts of the universe. Any potentiality is a potential possibility.

This is an essential point: It is not necessarily true that absolutely anything is possible. Rather there are infinite possibilities.

This is infinite mystery based within reality. Existence swallows new possibilities in seamless succession, in each of these infinitesimal moments neglecting innumerable alternatives.

What is of interest to me in the extreme depths of the unknown is not what might be, but in the sheer intellectual stimulation elicited through the contemplation of extant infinitudes.

There's too much to be said about this all at once; this will be a persistent topic in my writing, as it has been for over a decade.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Perceptual Indulgence Through Disorienting Awareness

Amid the daunting din of binary babble, I now raise my own voice, plunging finger after finger into the keyboard, whose clicks blur, word after word, into quick bursts of incomprehensible effervescence.

I am a Surrealist. I indulge in a limitless variety of intellectual oddities through deliberate cognitive aberration and aberrant perceptual impositions. I sometimes offer these impositions for the stimulation or amusement of other intellects. Now, for example.

Perception, a thing defined only through its undefinable means, offers a boundless wealth of exciting awarenesses. The less one takes for granted, the more is granted to the sensory connoisseur. The infinitesimal sprouts the grandest conceptual ornamentation. Infinitudes flash into monoliths of bold simplicity. The umbration of a black flame casts mystery across all sights, sounds, textures, tastes, smells, and ideas. All perception is combustible before this black flame, this illuminating darkness, this means of unrelenting inspiration.

The unknowns of the universe, which outnumber all possible perceptions, can rend awareness agape with gravid Ifs. The inexhaustible beauty of wonder is thus offered to the daring mind. To the timid or disinterested, it can result in distress or even despair. Yet even these can yield further pleasures, with the right perspective.

Whether as a source of inspiration or of terror, the unknown is a boundless source of yet more unknowns, leading to an abyss overflowing with abysses.

As long as the unknown has a place under a pebble or in the next tick of the clock, there will be an abyss for the mind to explore to its detriment or delight.