Grim Thoughts and Gallows Humor in Eugene Thacker’s ‘Cosmic Pessimism’

In his recent study of mass murder and suicides, Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide, Franco Berardi notes that “in the contemporary aesthetic production it’s easy to detect the signs of a sort of dark zeitgeist.” One needn’t look far: dystopian YA novels in bookstore windows; another season of True Detective on TV; Mad Max: Fury Road in theaters.

While it’s true that these works offer occasional flickers of light, the characters, or what Milan Kundera calls our “imaginary selves”, generally live without it. In one of the only moments in Mad Max: Fury Road when Max articulates a complete thought, he says, “You know, hope is a mistake.”

Indeed, the dark zeitgeist is all around us. Chuckle if you want, but these are good times for grim thoughts, and some of the best and freshest writing is coming from Eugene Thacker. Some readers may know Thacker from his introductions to E.M. Cioran’s books; others will have read In the Dust of This Planet and his other “horror of philosophy” books.

For those unfamiliar with Thacker, a newly-published collection of aphorisms titled Cosmic Pessimism would be an entertaining place to start. Truth be told, Thacker is not nearly as gloomy as one would think, and though he charts familiar ground here, the presentation is a bit more lyrical than what we get in his other books, and accompanied by abstract black and white artwork. At 55 pages, Cosmic Pessimism is less taxing than one might fear, yet more thoughtful than one might expect. For example, we learn early on that there are different types of pessimism:

“Pessimism’s two major keys are moral and metaphysical pessimism, its subjective and objective poles, an attitude towards the world and a claim about the world. For moral pessimism, it is better not to have been born at all; for metaphysical pessimism, this is the worst of all possible worlds.” Cosmic Pessimism, instead, is “a pessimism of the world-without-us”, a notion of “primordial insignificance”.

Whether pessimism is actually a philosophy is something that Thacker questions. “The very term pessimism suggests a school of thought, a movement, even a community. But pessimism always has a membership of one—maybe two. Ideally, of course, it would have a membership of none, with only a scribbled, illegible note left behind by someone long forgotten. But this seems unrealistic, though one can hope,” he says, with a wink.

And there is plenty of fun to be had here, everything from buried Joy Division lyrics, to entries like this one:

Kierkegaard: life is a tightrope. Nietzsche: life is a jump rope. Kafka: life is a trip rope. Schopenhauer: life is a noose.

Cioran: life is a noose, improperly tied.

Thacker’s own pessimism is playful, but never trite, and sometimes even personal:

Cioran once wrote, ‘I turned away from philosophy when it became impossible to discover in Kant any human weakness, any authentic accent of melancholy, in Kant and in all the philosophers.’ I keep returning to Kant, but for the opposite reason. Each time I read, and witness the scintillating and austere construction of a system, I cannot help but to feel a certain sadness—the edifice itself is somehow depressing.

James Wood says that a good writer notices things, which is precisely what Thacker does, as when he distinguishes between fatality and futility or doom and gloom. The latter two terms especially we use without a second thought, even though “doom is not just the sense that all things will turn out badly, but that all things inevitably come to an end”, whereas gloom “is atmospheric, climate as much as impression, and if people are also gloomy, this is simply the by-product of an anodyne atmosphere that only incidentally involves human beings.” In other words, “if doom is the terror of temporality and death, then gloom is the horror of a hovering stasis that is life.”

The edge of heavy, lugubrious passages like these is blunted not only by gallows humor, but also by numerous anecdotes about Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Chamfort, and others who write in a pessimistic vein. It’s also worth mentioning that Thacker is, at times, critical of pessimism (“There is an intolerance in pessimism that knows no bounds”) and recognizes that it can be spiteful: “a spite for this person or a spite for all of humanity; a spectacular or a banal spite; a spite for a noisy neighbor, a yapping dog, a battalion of strollers, the meandering idiot walking in front of you on their smart phone, large loud celebrations, traumatic injustices anywhere in the world regurgitated as media blitz…”.

There is a hint of self-criticism in his words, yet a pessimistic disposition, or what Thacker sometimes calls a philosophical disenchantment, remains valid. After all, as Paul Mason argued in The Guardian, the dystopian world of Mad Max no longer shocks us because it’s too close to reality (17 May 2015). If this is true, then Thacker’s eloquent Cosmic Pessimism must be both an articulation of and monument to our dark zeitgeist.

 

What is a Red Room? Do darkweb ‘live stream’ murder sites really exist?

They’re the darkest places on the dark web – ‘Red Room’ sites where ‘Pay per View’ viewers part with Bitcoin to watch scenes of unimaginable horror.

They’re the darkest places on the dark web – ‘Red Room’ sites where ‘Pay per View’ viewers part with Bitcoin to watch scenes of unimaginable horror.

Urban legends about the existence of ‘Red Rooms’ have circulated for years – but as yet, there’s no evidence that they exist.‘Red Room’ sites, the story goes, are darkweb sites where users pay thousands – or tens of thousands – to watch rapes and murders live.

If ‘Pay per View’ torture sites do exist, it’s almost certain that they don’t work via Tor (the software used to access dark web sites) – which is too slow to stream video live.

The term ‘Red Room’ has been around on the internet for more than  decade – thought to originate either from ‘red rum’/’murder’, or from the 1983 horror film Videodrome, where torture is shown live on satellite TV in a red-painted room.

One case which suggests that there might be sites where people pay to view videos of torture is the case of Peter Scully, a paedophile currently facing trial in the Philippines.

Users of a paedophile site reportedly paid up to $10,000 to watch videos of Scully’s abuse and torture of a young child – one of a series of videos produced by Scully’s company, No Limits Fun.

The video Daisy’s Destruction – widely discussed on forums and on Reddit – is not actually a snuff film, but features horrifying abuse and sexual assault of a young child.

It was streamed on so-called ‘Hurtcore’ paedophile sites – where paedophiles watch torture and abuse of children and babies.

Its creator, Peter Scully, is in jail in the Philippines.

The video called ‘Daisy’s Destruction’ showed the baby girl being tied upside down by her feet, sexually assaulted and beaten by Scully and a masked woman.

In the series of videos, she is whipped and assaulted with sex toys by Peter Scully’s girlfriend – who he met when she herself was a child prostitute.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the footage was so horrific police called it ‘the worst we have encountered in our years campaigning against child pornography.’

Reports that the video feature ‘Daisy’ being killed are inaccurate – while human remains were discovered at one of Peter Scully’s homes, the girl from the film was rescued alive.

The videos were streamed via a paedophile website which hosted torture videos, called Hurt 2 The Core – which boasted 15,000 videos downloads daily.

The worst paedophiles – those who uploaded their own material – gained access to a Producer’s Lounge, with the most offensive material.

 

22-Year-Old Man With Sleep Paralysis Recreates His Nightmares In Photos, And It’s Terrifying

Click image to view video
Click image to view video

Photographer Nicolas Bruno spends his days like the rest of us, but his nights are very different. And terrifying. 22 year-old Nicolas has been suffering from sleep paralysis for 7 years now, which means that he experiences his nightmares more vividly than regular sleepers.

Sleep paralysis is a condition that happens when we are about to enter rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. In it, our bodies paralyze themselves to stop us from acting out our dreams, but Bruno’s mind is awake and experiencing horrific hallucinations. This forced him into insomnia and depression: “I thought I was possessed by demons,” he said.

Everything changed when one high school teacher suggested he should document these terrors. He has been battling his fears with photography ever since. “This project has gifted me a sense of who I am,” he said. “It gave me the strength to persevere in life, to create art and speak to people. It gifted me art, and I don’t know where I would be without it.”

More info: nicolasbrunophotography.com | FacebookInstagram (h/t: cnn, lostateminor)

30 Years Later, RoboCop Is More Relevant Than Ever

 

Has there ever been a movie more misunderstood than RoboCop? Paul Verhoeven’s hyperviolent dystopian cybersatire was released 30 years ago and almost immediately joined the likes of The Prince, Watchmen, and Wall Street in the great pantheon of works whose points have been completely missed by legions of fans and imitators. RoboCop was intended to be a viciously hilarious attack on police brutality, union busting, mass-media brainwashing, and the exploitation of the working class by amoral corporate raiders. Alas, all too many people only noticed the viciousness, not the targets thereof. As a result, the film’s subsequent sequels, spinoffs, and 2014 remake have been generally straight-faced. If they’re socially biting at all, their criticism is mild in comparison to their carnage.

Unfortunately, we can now add another faux-boCop clunker to the steel pile: Fox’s new police procedural APB, which wears its admiration for RoboCop on its high-tech sleeve. The female lead (Natalie Martinez) is named “Murphy,” a near-certain homage to the real name of Verhoeven’s titular super-cop. The show borrows much of its basic premise from the 1987 masterpiece: A corporation privatizes a police force and puts advanced machinery on the streets to combat soaring crime. Alas, it lacks any of the visceral criticism of its forebear, opting instead to celebrate generic cop work done with fancy toys. That’s a goddamn shame, because RoboCop is more relevant today than it’s ever been. Indeed, if we had collectively heeded its warnings, America might not be in the dire situation it finds itself in today.

If you haven’t seen RoboCop, you could be forgiven for assuming the movie is an earnest thriller, given its basic plot outline. In a near-future version of Detroit, a sleazy firm with the delightfully over-the-top moniker Omni Consumer Products* (or OCP, for short) buys up the police force — ostensibly to fight crime more efficiently, but really to test out brutally violent hardware to sell to the military. They could not give less of a shit about the actual police, who are planning a strike, and when one of the boys in blue gets shot to pieces by an OCP-allied gangster, his brain is surreptitiously harvested to make a cyborg cop with a computer-driven consciousness. After a rocky period as a warrior against criminality, he turns on his masters and regains his individual dignity.

 

But the plot is only half the story of RoboCop. More important are the tone and stylistic flourishes, which are astoundingly good ventures in pitch-black comedy. Newscasters announce nuclear armageddon and accidental presidential assassinations with ignorant cheer; folks use comically oversize guns to shoot at their victims for 20-second stretches, unrealistic blood squibs firing left and right; everyone watches a TV show in which buxom ladies hit on a hideous old man who incongruously shouts, “I’d buy that for a dollar!” at random; an elementary school is named after Lee Iacocca; and so on. It depicts a fallen world where tragedy long ago faded into farce and we’re supposed to ridicule virtually everything that goes on. If you’re not laughing, you’re not paying attention.

That is, in a way, the tragedy of RoboCop — you really do have to pay attention to get it. It’s a victim of its own success, insofar as what makes it hilarious is how straight-faced everything is. There are no winks to inform you that it’s time to giggle, so if you’re only half-watching, you’ll miss all your cues. That said, if you do pick up what the film is putting down, you’ll see a remarkable degree of significance for the world of 2017.

In 1987, Verhoeven and writers Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner were extrapolating Reagan-era greed and enthusiasm for privatization by imagining a corporate takeover of public services. Now, that’s barely an extrapolation — it’s a serious proposal made by a startling number of America’s most powerful industrialists. OCP dreams of throwing off all government control in its Delta City community, and it’s hard to watch the movie now and not think of it as a kind of land-bound seastead. The Peter Thiels and Tim Drapers of the world have, in their infinite wisdom, concluded that government more or less doesn’t work and that folks would be far better-served if they were part of an entirely private polity that values entrepreneurship above conventional citizenship. Today’s techno-utopians may prefer Jobsian asceticism instead of the coke-addled sneers of Miguel Ferrer’s Bob Morton, but their ideology is closer to Bob’s than they may like to admit.

RoboCop makes a profoundly good case against privatizing the police force and, by extension, any public necessity. Sure, it makes the obvious critique that the profit motive drives people to carry out obscene miscarriages of justice like, well, using a near-dead body to secretly build a super-robot that can be shopped around to the highest bidder. But there are even wiser points, as well. In a nod to the robo-fiction of Isaac Asimov, RoboCop has to obey three hard-wired laws, along with a classified fourth. We eventually learn that the last directive prevents him from arresting or attacking any employees of OCP, thus exempting them from the very law enforcement they make it their business to enact.

That plot point echoes current controversies over Facebook and Google. As the saying goes, if you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product, and Facebook and Google — as well as a bevy of other digital entities — make their billions by mining users’ personal information. Each takes our secrets and our intricacies and auctions them off, but in a cruel irony, they themselves are black boxes. Some people are banned without explanation; others are allowed to remain, despite ostensibly breaking the terms of service. The core algorithms, so crucial to countless users’ businesses and lives, are opaque and will remain so until the sun dies.

Like OCP, Facebook and its ilk exempt themselves from the things they do to everyone else. RoboCop teaches us that a private service, be it a police force or anything else, will inherently lack the transparency and accountability that (at least in theory) is built into an entity beholden to the public through elections, recalls, impeachment, and the like. We trust free-market libertarians at our own risk.

What’s more, RoboCop teaches us that, when the forces of corporate overreach are at work, we have to retain power against them — power that comes not from robot suits, but from unions. Early on, we learn that the overstretched and underfunded cops, who receive not a whiff of the cash that OCP is stirring into its R&D division, are contemplating a strike. This becomes a running bit in the film, especially as the uncaring OCP chieftains start to favor their shiny RoboCop over the concerns of the actual folks on the beat. (To Verhoeven’s credit, the force has a substantial number of tough women, not just dudes.)

An officer who’s acquiesced to OCP control muses that “we’re not plumbers, we’re police officers — and police officers don’t strike.” The guy is, of course, totally missing the point: The fact that cops don’t usually strike makes a potential strike all the more potent. Not everyone has a tin exoskeleton, but everyone can create the collective armor of a picket line. Even then, though, there has to be a society-wide appreciation of unionization, as RoboCop points out — when the strike is put on the table, an OCP exec gets stoked about the idea of using it as an opportunity to put more robots on the street. In other words, RoboCop was talking about the tension between automation and working people well before it became a topic at the highest levels of political and economic debate. It’s hard to imagine these ideas coming up in a sci-fi film today, largely because union membership is so passé, free-falling at a rate that makes 1987 look positively communist. RoboCop’s pro-labor message was powerful then, but it’s vitally urgent now.

So, too, is the way Verhoeven and his collaborators confront actual police work. RoboCop is a metal personification of extrajudicial police violence, destroying bodies and lives with casual aplomb. He bursts into an attempted convenience-store stickup and viciously beats the gunman, then, without attending to him medically, bids the owners a calm “Thank you for your cooperation” and walks out. He reads a thug his Miranda rights while punching him bloody. He also has no idea how to interact with the community — after stopping an attempted rape, he holds the victim and, in his inhuman, metallic monotone, declares, “Madam, you have suffered an emotional shock. I will notify a rape crisis center.” She looks terrified.

Such overcompensating intensity feels especially chilling in the Trump era. The new president frequently depicts the “inner cities” as hellholes rife with murder, gangs, drugs, and (his favorite term) carnage. It’s not unreasonable to think the man in the Oval Office would love to see RoboCop put on the streets, fighting violence not with any kind of structural reasoning or community improvement, but rather the simple language of brutality. The irony is that he’s also in favor of unrestricted access to guns, which is another essential point of critique in RoboCop — everyone has firearms, and they accomplish nothing but mayhem and dismemberment.

Unfortunately, the mayhem and dismemberment is all that some people enjoy about the film, the ultimate insult to RoboCop’s teachings. We’re supposed to laugh at and loathe the use of violence. In this, the movie is a spiritual sibling to Verhoeven’s other tragically misinterpreted masterwork, 1997’s antiwar satire Starship Troopers. In both tales, the impulse to fuck other people up and over leads only to empty souls and dead bodies. The vulgarity of television and interpersonal conduct leaves everyone debased and pitiful. Our present moment is one in which the ability to take what you want at all costs, without the slightest bit of empathy, is espoused at the highest levels of society — in other words, a moment that RoboCop prefigured three decades ago. It’s time to listen to what the movie screams at us, to reengage with a movie that is simultaneously funnier, more thrilling, and more socially astute than most ever made. A RoboCop renaissance? I’d buy that for a dollar.

http://www.vulture.com/2017/02/foxs-apb-is-the-latest-show-to-misunderstand-robocop.html

The current political reality

“We have a new type of rule now. Not one-man rule, or rule of aristocracy or plutocracy, but of small groups elevated to positions of absolute power by random pressures, and subject to political and economic factors that leave little room for decision. They are representatives of abstract forces who have reached power through surrender of self. The iron-willed dictator is a thing of the past. There will be no more Stalins, no more Hitlers. The rulers of this most insecure of all worlds are rulers by accident, inept, frightened pilots at the controls of a vast machine they cannot understand, calling in experts to tell them which buttons to push.”

‘Deep Dark Web’: Mysterious Universe Where Any Information Can Be Found

Up to 80% of the Internet is said to be hidden in the so-called “deep web,” which can be accessed using special search systems, like the Tor browser. Often, the “deep web” is associated with criminal activities, like firearms sales and drug trafficking.

The deep web is a kind of mysterious place where one can find everything that has been published on the Internet, but can’t be accessed via traditional search engines. In other words, it is collection of websites that are publicly visible, but hide the IP addresses of the servers that run them.

“There are various services within this universe. Some are used to protect delivered information, conceal identities or ensure anonymity,” IT expert and CEO of TIB company Maximiliano Alonzo explained in an interview with Sputnik Mundo.

At the same time, Alonzo noted that the deep web can be used both — in positive and negative ways.

“The deep web is like a scalpel: in the hands of a doctor it can save lives, but in the hands of a criminal, it can kill. So everything depends on its use. There are certain countries in which citizens have a limited access to the Internet, and the deep web is for them an alternative way to receive information,” Alonzo explained.

The concept of a deep web appeared with the occurrence of the first search engines. All data that can’t be accessed by Google is available via special search systems, like the Tor browser, which makes it impossible to trace the identity or address of its users.

“If a user tries to access a certain web site, his IP address gets registered in the system and makes it possible to identify the country, the city and even the identity of the user. The Tor system can change a person’s data and make its access anonymous,” the expert explained.

The deep web contains any kind of information and is often associated with criminal activities (like firearms and drug trafficking as well as personal data sales).

For instance, the sales of a fentanyl drug caused a wave of deaths and were ultimately prohibited by one of the Dark Web marketplaces.

Earlier, it was also reported that hackers sold on the deep web hundreds of millions of personal passwords from websites such as LinkedIn, MySpace, Tumblr, Fling.com, and VK.com.

Bewilderment a poem by Rumi

Bewilderment

There are many guises for intelligence.
One part of you is gliding in a high windstream,
while your more ordinary notions
take little steps and peck at the ground.

Conventional knowledge is death to our souls,
and it is not really ours. It is laid on.
Yet we keep saying we find “rest” in these “beliefs.”

We must become ignorant of what we have been taught
and be instead bewildered.

Run from what is profitable and comfortable.
Distrust anyone who praises you.
Give your investment money, and the interest
on the capital, to those who are actually destitute.

Forget safety. Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.
I have tried prudent planning long enough.

From now on, I’ll be mad.

– Rumi

A revised portrait of psychopaths

Study finds that they do feel regret, but it doesn’t affect their choices

When most people hear the word psychopath, they immediately think of a Hannibal Lecter-style serial killer who is cold, calculating, emotionless, willing to do or say anything to get their desire.

And they’re not alone. For decades, researchers studying psychopathy have characterized the disorder as a profound inability to process emotions such as empathy, remorse, or regret.

A recent study, though, suggests that psychopaths are not incapable of feeling emotions like regret and disappointment. What they cannot do, it seems, is make accurate predictions about the outcomes of their choices.

The study, co-authored by Joshua Buckholtz, associate professor of psychology at Harvard, and Arielle Baskin-Sommers, assistant professor of psychology and of psychiatry at Yale University, offers a new model of the disorder that could shed important light on the decision-making process of psychopaths. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The assumption has always been that they make these bad choices because they can’t generate negative emotions like fear, or appropriately respond to emotional signals generated by other people … but we turned that idea on its head.”

Using an economic game, Buckholtz and Baskin-Sommers were able to show that while psychopaths have normal, or even enhanced, emotional responses in situations that typically elicit regret, they have trouble extracting information from the environment that would indicate that an action they’re about to take will result in the experience of regret.

“There are two components to regret,” Buckholtz explained. “There is retrospective regret, which is how we usually think about regret — the emotional experience after you learn you could have received a better outcome if you had made a different choice. But we also use signals from our environment to make predictions about which actions will or won’t result in regret. What differentiated psychopaths from other people was their inability to use those prospective regret signals, to use information about the choices they were given to anticipate how much regret they were going to experience, and adjust their decision-making accordingly.

“It’s almost like a blindness to future regret,” he added. “When something happens, they feel regret, but what they can’t do is look forward and use information that would tell them they’re going to feel regret to guide their decision-making.”

“These findings highlight that psychopathic individuals are not simply incapable of regret [or other emotions], but that there is a more nuanced dysfunction that gets in the way of their adaptive functioning,” Baskin-Sommers said. “By appreciating this complexity, we are poised to develop more accurate methods for predicting the costly behavior of psychopathic individuals.”

Using a measure of prospective regret sensitivity, Buckholtz and Baskin-Sommers were also able to predict whether and even how many times study participants had been incarcerated.

“Contrary to what you would expect based on these basic emotional-deficit models, their emotional responses to regret didn’t predict incarceration,” Buckholtz said. “We know psychopathy is one of the biggest predictors of criminal behavior, but what we found was that behavioral regret sensitivity moderated that, raising the suggestion that intact behavioral regret sensitivity could be a protective factor against incarceration in psychopathic individuals.”

While the study upends the pop-culture image of psychopaths, Buckholtz is hopeful that it will also provide a new direction for scientists who hope to understand how psychopaths make decisions.

“We actually know very little about how psychopaths make choices,” he said. “There have been all sorts of research into their emotions and emotional experience, but we know next to nothing about how they integrate information that we extract from the world as a matter of course and use it to make decisions in daily lives. Getting better insight into why psychopaths make such terrible choices, I think, is going to be very important for the next generation of psychopathy research.”

A revised portrait of psychopaths

Two Of The Greatest Comic Book Writers Have Been In An Occult War For 25 Years

by Urbanski on Feb. 13, 2017

http://www.break.com/article/alan-moore-and-grant-morrison-occult-war-for-25-years-3080666

Two of the world’s greatest comic book writers are wizards. No, seriously. Their work has not only changed comics forever, they’ve spilled over into literature and especially film. A lot of the movies you loved, and even more of the movie-plots you loved, were influenced by these two guys. So even if you never actually heard of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, you know their work.

Both men are British; both are only a few years apart in age. Both present themselves as rebels of a sort. Both are passionately dedicated to a personal practice of the occult, and their occult writing has been taken seriously and influenced the scene.

But here’s the kicker: Moore and Morrison freaking despise each other. So much so that it’s actually bled into their work. Some of the greatest comics of the last 25 years have been a direct product of Moore and Morrison’s wizard-fight.

First, some background: both men started out writing comics in the 1970s, and became famous in the 1980s (internationally, Moore became famous a few years earlier than Morrison).

Alan Moore is probably most famous for V for Vendetta, From Hell, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and a little miniseries called “Watchmen” that changed comics forever.

Morrison wrote Animal Man, and Doom Patrol, and The Invisibles. He was the driving force behind the ‘vertigo’ line of DC comics which focused on weird fiction with occult/horror overtones, which had a huge influence on subsequent movies and TV.

His work was groundbreaking, but he was also responsible for incredibly significant work on mainstream comics like the X-Men, the Justice League, Superman and Batman, radically renovating each of those titles and producing some of their most memorable stories of recent years.

Moore did mainstream superhero comics too: in the 1980s his writing on Green Lantern had a significant influence on that character, he turned Swamp Thing from a failing monster-comic into a major character, invented John Constantine, wrote “The Killing Joke” for Batman and a couple of Superman stories that were extremely memorable. But he had a falling out with DC comics over royalties for “Watchmen” and in opposition to a plan to put ratings systems in their comics; after that he quit working for the big mainstream comic companies and never looked back.

By the early 90s, it was already obvious Moore had issues with Morrison. He claimed to have helped give Morrison a leg up in his career (Morrison later pointed out he was making comics, though much less famous ones, before Moore had become known at all), and that Morrison in return just ripped-off all of Moore’s work.

Morrison, on the other hand, claimed that Moore’s own work was derivative of a 1977 novel called Superfolks, and that “Watchmen” was not as great as everyone thought, and that Moore wants to take credit for everything great in comics while slagging anyone he sees as competition.

Moore has continued to insinuate throughout the years that Morrison has kept ripping off his ideas, once notably saying, “I’ve read Morrison’s work twice: first when I wrote it, then when he wrote it.”

Even the question of which one of them is the more “occult” comic book guy has been a bone of contention. Moore’s coming out as a magician was better known and got way more press, and he did that in 1993. On the other hand, Morrison was talking publicly about being involved in Chaos Magick a few years earlier than that, and Morrison has claimed that Moore only decided to come out because Morrison was already public about it.

It’s not as if either of them were really secretive about it. Moore’s magical ideas were already mostly evident in his early work, and Morrison’s pre-1993 work was already highly esoteric. Moore’s V for Vendetta openly espoused gnostic concepts and Aleister Crowley‘s magical philosophy.

Magically, the two believe in very different things. Neither of them are exactly orthodox, but Moore is a more traditionalist kind of wizard. He is an admirer of Aleister Crowley’s “Thelemic” magick, and the philosophy in his Book of the Law. He appreciates the value of magick as a kind of art form, and in turn, considers art to be a kind of magick.

Grant Morrison is from the school of “chaos magick”, who practice magick that is less worried about rules and ritual and more about trying to get things done. Magick can be done from just about anything, as long as you have the right intention. Chaos magicians tend to like mixing up elements from a whole variety of different cultures and history, to reinvent it all to fit whatever they’re in the mood for, and have no problem with doing magick for personal gain (or to change the world) rather than just for human transcendence.

Moore’s very loud statement of declaring himself a Magician in public may just have been a factor in motivating Morrison to go whole-hog with the ‘occult comic book’ thing, when he started on “The Invisibles” in 1994.

“The Invisibles” is a 1500 page (59 issue) masterpiece of Occult Literature, written in comic book form. Its winding plotline tells a single long story (with various sub-plots) about a group of occult rebels using magick to try to liberate mankind, opposed by a cabal of black magicians in positions of power and authority trying to use sorcery to control and oppress humanity. It is, simply put, one of the greatest comic series of all time.

According to Morrison, if you want to take him at his word and not just assume it’s a chaos-magician metaphor, he was told parts of the story by space aliens when he was abducted by them in Kathmandu. The entire comic was intentionally designed to function as a kind of spell’, meant to create powerful changes in consciousness in whoever reads it. It also had weird effects on Morrison’s own life.

His character “King Mob” was meant to be based on Morrison’s ideal version of himself as an occult rebel-hero; Morrison started to find that when he wrote bad things happening to King Mob, bad things happened to himself. When King Mob nearly died from magical bacteria in one of the comic’s issues, Morrison himself caught a life-threatening infection. Later, King Mob was shot and almost killed, and Morrison himself had to be hospitalized for blood poisoning. After that, Morrison started writing King Mob as having great things happening to him, and Morrison started to have unexpected fame and fortune of his own.

While “The Invisibles” hasn’t got its own movie or TV series yet (it’s probably too weird and too hard to make), it was enormously influential on a ton of sci-fi and fantasy writers, as well as filmmakers. In particular, the creators of The Matrix were hugely influenced by “The Invisibles.”

So here’s where we get to the part that most articles on the Moore/Morrison feud have missed. I’m a comics reader but probably not expert enough to really detail the history or quality of work other than at the ‘fan’ level. But I am an expert on occultism. And I can say this: the war between Moore and Morrison isn’t just a “writers’ fight”, it’s a “wizards’ feud.” It is two very different views on magick using comics as a medium to fire salvos at each other.

A few years after Morrison started on “The Invisibles,” Alan Moore came out with “Promethea” – a 32-issue comic about a young woman who becomes the latest host for the spirit of an ancient superpowerful demigoddess of the imagination. Incarnating in the modern world, she takes on the role of a wonder-woman-style Super-heroine.

Like “The Invisibles,” “Promethea” is full of occult symbolism and esoteric philosophical ideas. It’s lavishly beautiful and brilliantly written. Just as The Invisibles served as a showcase for Morrison’s own ideas about chaos-magick, buddhism, conspiracy theories, psychedelia, UFO-fanaticism, esoteric psychology, punk politics and apocalypticism; Promethea became a showcase for Moore’s ideas about Magick, Thelema, the Qabalah, gnosticism, art-as-magick, imagination-as-reality, transcending the shallowness of the modern world, and apocalypticism.

Yes, both comics end with the ‘end of the world’. But the way these end up is very different from each other, and reflect the different views of the two magicians. In the Invisibles, the apocalypse is a humanity-transcending singularity. In “Promethea,” it is a divine union which makes us all more totally human than ever. This difference, like almost all the content in both comics, serve to highlight how Moore and Morrison have very different ideas about occult philosophy:

Morrison on magick:

Moore on magick:

I could have picked some other quote from Moore, like his manifesto about how magick should be stripped of its nostalgia or its introverted edginess and be treated as an expression of art, and how learning how to use words is what magick is all about (that you cast a spell in the same sense as ‘spelling’ a word). But the quote above in some ways seems more appropriate. Morrison wants to be precise and coherent, and he wants to present an image of himself in everything he does; he’s a kind of preacher for magick. Moore doesn’t give a crap what you think of him, and he just wants to drop hints of wisdom at you, and then you need to figure the rest out yourself.

Moore seemed to be mocking Morrison’s style of chaos magick in “Promethea,” basically calling it wankery. In one scene in the comic, Moore has a character point out that in the 1920s, (ritual) magick was all about “turbans, tuxedos and tarts in tiaras,” but now modern (chaos) magick is all about “sigils, stubble, and self abuse.”

In response, Morrison called Moore’s Promethea “elitist.” He seems to want magick to be both accessible to everyone, and revolutionary at the same time.

As a wizard myself, I’d say that both comics are absolute masterpieces of modern occult literature. “Promethea” probably includes the greatest explanation ever made of the “Tree of Life” – the roadmap of traditional western magick. It’s glorious. “The Invisibles” is probably the most complete compendium of occult ideas of the modern age. That’s how they’re different: “Promethea” shows you magick, teaches you why it’s important, and invites you to make your own humanity magical. “The Invisibles” doesn’t give you a choice: just reading it changes you, it blows your mind like it was a supernatural drug. It’s not an instruction; it’s an experience.

But it’s too easy to try to write the conflict off by painting Moore as some kind of grumpy old traditionalist, and Morrison as the bold in-your-face counter-culture rebel.

Remember, it was Moore who argued his way out of mainstream comics forever. On the other hand, Morrison plays the rebel but has become an icon of Mainstream Comics (though anyone reasonable would agree he’s transformed that mainstream and helped enormously to raise the quality of mainstream comics writing).

Morrison even got an MBE from the Queen, which Moore saw as the ultimate proof of Morrison’s fake rebel act being exposed as conformity. For it, he called Morrison a “Tory” (which, from Moore, is like the dirtiest word imaginable).

Morrison once claimed that Moore only had one “Watchmen”, while he does “one Watchmen a week”; which frankly is complete bullcrap. And you could laugh at Morrison’s arrogance for saying something like that, except that then he went on to launch a magical attack directly at Watchmen just to prove his point, with his comic “Pax Americana.”

“Watchmen” had started out as an idea Moore had using a certain group of DC-owned characters (Captain Atom, Peacemaker, The Question, Nightshade, the Blue Beetle, Thunderbolt) which DC wasn’t really using. Luckily for us all, DC didn’t let him use them, so he reinvented them as the Watchmen characters (Dr.Manhattan, Comedian, Rorschach, Silk Spectre, Nite Owl, Ozymandias) and created a masterpiece.

But in “Pax Americana,” Morrison reversed the situation. First, he did get to use the DC characters; but he wrote them in a style that imitated (almost but not quite to the point of mockery) the style of Moore’s “Watchmen” characters. Then he makes a complete story in just one issue, that is just as much a work of genius as Moore’s 12 issues of “Watchmen.” This too is a magical technique, once again, Morrison has turned a comic book into a spell. “Pax Americana” itself even deals with the nature of time, and the keys to the universe in the number 8; he even magically over-rides “Watchmen”’s base-3 (9 panel) format with a base-4 (8 or 16 panel) format. It’s like a wizard crafting a more powerful magical square-talisman than his rival.

The first page of the story actually shows you the ending of it, and you can read “Pax Americana” from front to back, back to front, or starting from anywhere in the middle. By playing with time in this way, and using the older characters Moore’s “Watchmen” was based on, Morrison’s comic-spell is essentially trying to retroactively change history, and to neuter Moore’s claim that he was there first. “Pax Americana” isn’t just an amazing comic – it’s an amazing spell.

For his part Moore hasn’t responded to this latest volley quite yet, having been too busy working on his decade-long novel project Jerusalem, which he finally published last year. It’s one of the ten longest novels of the English language, and got some pretty good reviews. But I’m guessing comics will pull him back in again, and Alan Moore’s magical duel with Grant Morrison won’t be over until one of the two is dead. Maybe not even then.

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