Monday, June 28, 2021

One Eye Gone Black;center,top&resize=1200:*

The One and Simple is what Dorn called the unus mundus. This “one world” was the res simplex. For him the third and highest degree of conjunction was the union of the whole man with the unus mundus. By this he meant, as we have seen, the potential world of the first day of creation, when nothing was yet “in actu,” i.e., divided into two and many, but was still one. The creation of unity by a magical procedure meant the possibility of effecting a union with the world -- not with the world of multiplicity as we see it but with a potential world, the eternal Ground of all empirical being, just as the self is the ground and origin of the individual personality past, present, and future.

-- Mysterium Coniunctionis, C. G. Jung (p. 543)

This passage did in my head when I first came across it. Jung, in his reading of the 16th cen. alchemist Gerhard Dorn, is shedding an entirely new light on the phenomenology of the mystical experience. The common understanding of the latter, and an understanding that I once shared, is that the mystical is an apprehension of the oneness of the perceiver with the objects of perception -- the division between subject and object breaks down and all is experienced as a non-dual unity.

In other words, either my sense of self expands to envelop all of the things I see and otherwise sense around me -- sunlight, sea, sailboat, conversation, page, pen, jet engine roar, breeze  -- or I completely lose myself within them. Either way, through inflation or deflation of the ego, the barriers between me and my environment are erased.

What Dorn and Jung are implying, however, is something far more profound. The union of the self is not with what we witness in actuality -- "in actu" -- but with what the world was before it was actualized -- "the potential world of the first day of creation." 

The individual experiencing "the highest degree of conjunction" attains union not with the actual but with the potential and the virtual. Nor is the self experiencing this the everyday present self, but instead the potential self containing the individual personality of past, present and future. The potential self perfectly mirrors the potential world.

Yet what was the world on the first day of Creation? It was as near to absolute chaos as can be conceived. It is pure potentia. It is a seed or an egg that contains the power to give birth to all things in any form imaginable. It is infinitely dense and concentrated creativity -- the unus mundus -- able to branch out and transform in any possible direction, in any manifestation. 

The existing course and evolution of the universe is only one of a limitless number of paths it could have taken. The unus mundus in fact contains all possible past, present and future universes. And this is what we are asked by Dorn (and Jung) to conjoin with. How? 

Obviously this is not a mere act of perception. Being aware of the divinity or incarnation of perception is paramount, but this alone is insufficient for the full conjunction. It is not enough, for example, to annihilate oneself in the movement, sound and shimmering colours of the waves as they loosely curl onto the sand. This is merely the actual. 

Perception will take us this far, but to go further it needs to be actively coupled with the imagination. Perception always falls under the imagination -- we are all greater artists than we realize, as Nietzsche taught -- yet for the most part its imaginary function is passive, unconscious.

To arrive at the potential or the virtual aspect of the waves is to actively, consciously, travel via the imagination-charged or -ignited senses back from the surface waves to the sea, to the course of all water, and finally to that juncture where our self and our senses, arriving just at this moment, emerged from water. 

This cannot be experienced by normal application of the senses. The imagination is required to "visualize" it, yet the complete conjunction cannot be limited to sight or the metaphors of sight. Synesthesia comes closest to describing it, but even this falls far short.

Blake recognized the above in envisioning the Sun as the Hallelujah choir of Angels. The process is certainly a species of double vision.  It is perception charged with utmost sacred meaning and distillation. Blake employed his imagination and voyaged to a point where the Sun had not yet separated itself from the angels. And there are further junctures to discover, further back, further within.

It would be necessary to return to the interior of scientific states of affairs or bodies in the process of being constituted, in order to penetrate into consistency, that is to say, into the sphere of the virtual, a sphere that is only actualized in them. It would be necessary to go back up the path that science descends, and at the very end of which logic sets up its camp.

-- What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari (p.140)

I'd like to temporarily hallucinate that D&G are on the same track here. And I would bet that I am not far off. How is it possible to "penetrate into consistency," to dive "into the sphere of the virtual?

They are describing a process within science or at least partially intelligible through the metaphors of science, but they could have just as aptly used the terms of "magical procedure" as did Jung and the alchemists, and in other places they did use such terms. But how to get there? 

We must "go back up the path that science descends." Science deals in the actual, but we aim for the virtual and we must travel beyond the horizon, beyond the point wherever logic, let alone modern science, constructed its first makeshift bivouac in the wailing jungle.!Large.jpg

It is a long, dark pathless journey to get there. This is easier to grasp in biological terms, in terms of the origins of the species. We've all seen the genealogical trees in which modern humans branch off from neanderthals, hominids diverge from the greater primates, mammals and birds take their respective courses. 

What we are considering, though, is a reversal or even a regression, and not with the physical organism, but with awareness and inner vision. It involves a journey back through image, and maybe within the memory present in the nervous system, in cellular DNA, through twigs and branches and tubules and roots to earlier intersection points in which things had not yet specialized, speciated. 

Yet this is not science, of course, however expressed. In practice it is more akin to the visualization exercises of Tibetan Buddhism -- seeing oneself as becoming a god, to a demon, to an animal, back to a human, and to then to view all of these forms as being fluid and finally void of separate identity. 

It is correct to call this prior to science, prior to logic, prior to exclusive form. "The sphere of the virtual," therefore, does not designate a particular place or state, ontology or epistemology. Instead, it is ever-fluctuating capacity within every crossing of potential emergence. 

Barriers can be overcome very rapidly. The movement here is at the speed of thought. Here, two things can exist as one identity. The most basic logical foundations are shattered, pulverized.

In other words, becoming-animal is an operation which cannot be performed within the actual, by a transformation from a fully constituted individual of one species to another of a different species. But if we move towards the virtual, towards those circles of convergence or fields of individuation where there are still communications between not-yet-actualized species, one can become ‘re-enveloped’ in another field.

-- Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, Manuel Delanda (p. 215)

As Delanda interprets Deleuze, the operation is not actual, not the transformation from a separate individual of one species to a separate individual of another. Instead it requires convergence, melding, confluence. There would always be an option to stop, I suppose, or to get stuck in some dead end. Kafka's metamorphic departure to dung-beetlehood may be an example. 

Move from one branch to the trunk and then out to the furthest twiggiest extents of another. But it must always be possible to venture further down, towards where all lines and fibres and categories come together. 

The obvious comparison, and the study where all of these experiments were most advanced, is with alchemy. The prima materia, the philosopher's stone, chemical dissolution, are names of the site at which the process fully occurs. The chaos before creation. 

One travels from the actual to the not-yet-actual; becoming woman, becoming wombat, becoming snake, becoming moss, becoming stone, becoming fire. Nor are the paths fixed. There is really no set hierarchy of being, no need to descend in stages from "higher" orders to "lower." These are not firmly determined.

Deleuze’s thought hearkens back, here, to the hermetic vision of Pico della Mirandola, who had described a humanity created not in keeping with a particular form, but as superadded to the cosmic orders. This parataxic position of humanity renders it capable of undergoing extreme ordeals, of traversing the entire chain of being, from mineral to angelic. The realization of human perfection, in this view, is possible only because there is no human essence, God having given Adam “no form, no fixed seat.” Being created imago dei, for Pico, is not to be a well-placed “rational animal” at the center of stable hierarchies. The human prerogative is to be capable, for good or ill, of identification with any level of existence. The medieval chain of being that had an “allegorical” power in late scholastic cosmology, assigning to each individual a place, is reenvisioned by Pico as symbolic in precisely the Deleuzian sense of forming a milieu of transformation, an imbricated series of powers of becoming.

-- The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal, Joshua Ramey (p. 107)

Human essence, according to Pico during the Renaissance, is to have no essence. The exhaustive possibility of Hermetic transformation is affirmed. Two points here distinguish Pico from Deleuze, and even from later more pagan or pantheist thinkers of the Renaissance, notably Giordano Bruno.

For one, the idea of a single and linear chain of being began to become obsolete. The metaphor of a ever-branching and bifurcating tree is more accurate, but even that image eventually gives way to one of a twigwork or rootwork of intersecting and fluctuating channels and arteries, swapping nourishment and communication, with multiple shifting access points both above and below ground. 

Nature, yet also supra-nature and super-nature, exists as one seething, cycling, protoplasmic polypus. This, however, is not yet the Natural Religion which Blake identified and strongly criticized, not Newton's sleep of scientific materialism. Bruno's renaissance, which it could be argued that Deleuze is an heir and a rejuvenator  of, is a renaissance of Ancient Egyptian cosmic immanentism

Nature revealed by the senses is affirmed, celebrated and worshiped, but its full realm entirely transcends human understanding. Instead of either lopping off belief in the Spirit altogether -- as in scientific materialism -- as being non-empirical and therefore untenable, or structurally situating Spirit outside and transcendent of nature entirely, as it was considered for the classical and medieval proponents of the Chain of Being, Spirit was beheld as unentangledly bound and wed with Matter. 

Yet Spirit was understood as being both immanent and transcendent. It is immanent because Spirit is wholly and everywhere present, but simultaneously transcendent because it totally baffles normal "rational" comprehension. For Bruno, and perhaps Deleuze, all matter is alive, spiritual, holy. It is neither dead nor separated by a hierarchized cosmic gulf from the intellectual or spiritual realm. The chain becomes a rhizome. 

And the second difference from Pico's view stems directly from the first. It is not only human individuals who were created in the image of God. And it is important to realize what "image of God" truly means. Obviously, God being incorporeal, this does not mean the physical image of God. Human beings do not resemble God in bodily form, although Blake believed that the whole universe was in the shape of man. 

The human form is certainly sacred, sublime, but this is not the primary gift that we were bestowed upon by the Creator. The gift of the image of God is the gift of the imagination of God. As God, therefore, created the universe from his/her imagination so human individuals have been granted the ability to fathom, craft and fashion singular universes of their own.!Large.jpg

The step beyond this that Bruno is making, and it is also a step back to the most primal convictions of the species -- convictions that even now "survive" -- is that this creative ability is not confined or limited to the scope of humanity. Intelligent and imaginative spirits and entities permeate every level of nature from "below" the atomic to beyond the stars. 

Shaping power is everywhere conjoined with passionate love. At each "point" total metamorphosis is possible. The openings and portals into Faery are ubiquitous; as the alchemists taught, the stone can be found in the very dust of the streets. The fact that modern/pomo/popomo individuals do not acknowledge this is only a measure of the present lack of vision, of the blinders we have allowed to be placed upon our senses and our mind, of the realm of quantity, of our own crisis of faith. 

Whereas once nearly every member of society was at least a latent shaman, highly conscious of his or her capacity to traverse between worlds and even to make new worlds, now even "poets" -- the direct though stunted spiritual descendants of the shamanic wonder-workers -- have reduced their own roles to that of entertainers, jugglers of words, slightly elevated political, social and cultural commentators. Yet that was not the original path and calling of the poet. 

The poet, by an ulterior intellectual perception, gives them power which makes their old use forgotten, and puts eyes, and a tongue, into every dumb and inanimate object.[...]

For, through that better perception, he stands one step nearer to things, and sees the flowing or metamorphosis; perceives that thought is multiform -- that within the form of every creature is a force impelling it to ascend into a higher form; and, following with his eyes the life, uses the forms which express that life, and so his speech flows with the flowing of nature. All the facts of the animal economy, -- sex, nutriment, gestation, birth, growth -- are symbols of the passage of the world into the soul of man, to suffer there a change, and reappear a new and higher fact. He uses forms according to the life, and not according to the form. This is true science.

-- "The Poet", Ralph Waldo Emerson (p. 456)

Emerson, dipping back into the well of Neoplatonic tradition opened by the early nineteenth century translations of the works of these neglected philosophers into English by Thomas Taylor, attempted to reclaim the magical staff and mantle of the old poets. 

Emerson, as did other U.S. "Transcendentalists" like Henry David Thoreau, recognized that a transformation of perception by the imagination was required to see "the flowing" of nature, and that true poetry results when words and nature flow as a single movement. With this poetic perception nature ascends to the forms of the beautiful. 

The poet is then reanimator and annalist. He or she reports back their findings to the community, but in a sense the poetry itself is that discovery. The words and images and rhythms and breath of the poem are doorways into the experience, portals which also allow reanimated spirits to once again have intercourse with our circadian world. 

All "facts" of nature reenter the soul in this way and are redeemed and reenchanted by the retrieval of verse. Once again, this is not merely a process of identifying with the objects of the senses as they normally function. The subject-object breach is not truly welded together in this manner. As the subject becomes completely altered through perception charged with the imagination, so the object is also transformed entirely. 

Discreet and static things cease to exist completely. Categories melt away. A fluid, heaving, winding, chirping medium in continual yet often blissful tumult is revealed. This is the "higher" state of phenomena. And, as with Dorn and Jung and Deleuze and Bruno, it involves a traversing back to the potential, not the "actual", shapes and expressions of beheld forms. 

Emerson, through Taylor and the Neoplatonists, can be placed in the same tradition. And Emerson goes on to make clear that is not only "natural" things, "the animal economy," that can be transformed through poetic perception; things crafted by the human hand and mind can also be opened up into the eternal. 

A busy city street corner, full of noise, traffic, grime, electricity, buying and selling and stress, can as much be the site of alchemical transmutation, as a breezy wooded hillside on the first day of Spring. All is open to the poet's page. And if it is the poets who, in a forest or a shopping mall, momentarily lift the veil of Pan, what do they witness? How does the splendour of the unus mundus appear? It is as terrifying as it is beautiful.

"Look about you, Clarke. You see the mountain, and hill following after hill, as wave on wave, you see the woods and orchard, the fields of ripe corn, and the meadows reaching to the reed-beds by the river. You see me standing here beside you, and hear my voice; but I tell you that all these things—yes, from that star that has just shone out in the sky to the solid ground beneath our feet—I say that all these are but dreams and shadows; the shadows that hide the real world from our eyes. There is a real world, but it is beyond this glamour and this vision, beyond these ‘chases in Arras, dreams in a career,’ beyond them all as beyond a veil. I do not know whether any human being has ever lifted that veil; but I do know, Clarke, that you and I shall see it lifted this very night from before another’s eyes. You may think this all strange nonsense; it may be strange, but it is true, and the ancients knew what lifting the veil means. They called it seeing the god Pan."

-- The Great God Pan, Arthur Machen, (p. 10)

This, from Machen's incredible story which has so influenced weird- and horror fiction writers from H.P. Lovecraft on, is pure Neoplatonism. Machen, once an initiate of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and friend of the ceremonial magician and Aleister Crowley rival, A.E. Waite, is here expressing this vision as terror which, as Machen later admitted based on knowledge gained from his own singular experiences, he might better describe as awe. 

Pan, son of Hermes, inspires both wonder and panic. But Machen is making an extremely crucial point in this story, and in other of his stories; if this experience, the veil-lifting, is conducted from the perspective of reductive scientific materialism, from one who attempts to remain aloof  and "objective", one whose ego remains closed and fortified, then there is bound to be a shattering and a disintegration. It is indeed an experience of becoming.$File/John-Martin-The-Fallen-Angels-Entering-Pandemonium-from-Paradise-Lost.JPG

The Abyss will look back into you. The bearded visage of the gold goat god can peer out through every particle, but he longs for union, conjunction, intoxication, dissolution, orgasmic rapture. It is the tower of the ego-complex that will be struck down by the lightning bolts of unconscious upheaval and tempest. Analysis, moving away even from at least the public Jung, is impossible without destruction. 

Vivisection, the modern paradigm, gives birth to a multitude of new monsters. It is the positivist attitude that awakens the dreaded Old Ones. Instead, the active imagination is necessary, but its action requires an apparently paradoxical surrender. 

The "real" world beyond "this glamour and this vision" -- is at all times present and is really only terrifying when we attempt to shut it out from our apprehension and yet it inevitably bursts forth within uninvited moments. 

Far and beyond anything else, what is most repressed will eventually surface in a violence that is proportionate to the force employed in its initial repression. Yet the active lifting of the veil of Pan involves poetic conjuration.

Here too was all the work by which man had been made repeated before my eyes. I saw the form waver from sex to sex, dividing itself from itself, and then again reunited. Then I saw the body descend to the beasts whence it ascended, and that which was on the heights go down to the depths, even to the abyss of all being. The principle of life, which makes organism, always remained, while the outward form changed. […] I watched, and at last I saw nothing but a substance as jelly. […] for one instance I saw a Form, shaped in dimness before me, which I will not farther describe. But the symbol of this form may be seen in ancient sculptures, and in paintings which survived beneath the lava, too foul to be spoken of…as a horrible and unspeakable shape, neither man nor beast, was changed into human form, there came finally death.

-- The Great God Pan, Arthur Machen, (p. 50)

Here, at the climax of the story, we discover what exactly occurred to the unfortunate young woman who was connived into becoming the guinea pig for the experiment to lift the veil of Pan. 

A doctor submits a proto-Lovecraftian report on her physical dissolution. A now familiar course of shifting and becoming is horrifically described. The form wavers and flickers and oozes from sex to sex, from human to all manner of beasts, to the "abyss of being," the primordial jelly of all forms, and back to human again before final demise. 

The "outward form" is in perpetual change while "the principle of life" persists throughout. In fact what is being observed is the accelerated protean nature of Pan himself. This, with few reservations, could be called Emerson's "flowing of nature," or Pico's "no form, no fixed seat," or Deleuze and Guattari's "consistency" and "sphere of the virtual" or Jung's "potential world of the first day of creation," the unus mundus. 

Like the primordial hill or mound, the spire of spunk, of the Egyptian creation myth, the act or revelation is reenacted everywhere. Nor is this moment confined to a single originary instant at the beginning of time. 

Instead, as ordinary perception itself projects outward the Cosmos at every moment, transmuting the raw riot of sensory data in an unnoticed and perpetual outpouring, it is perennial as well as ubiquitous. The Stone is found in the dust of the streets. 

Abstraction in especially 20th century art, music and literature is a direct attempt to represent and reproduce this return to the virtual. Chaos is the final subject of atonal classical music, free jazz, noise, Dada, Abstract Expressionism, modernist and postmodernist poetry.

Chaos, in this primary sense, does not mean total disorder but instead all potential forms of order. When resurrection through the dissolution of the Stone is accomplished, the world itself is redeemed. And as the Stone is perceivable everywhere, for those possessing double vision and beyond, the world in fact has already been redeemed. Spiritual creation and material procreation are variations of a single process.

"When man yielded," he would say, "to the mysterious temptation intimated by the figurative language of Holy Writ, the universe, originally fluid and the servant of his spirit, became solid, and crashed down upon him overwhelming him beneath its weight and its dead mass." I requested him to furnish me with more light on this remarkable belief; and I found that in his opinion that which we now regard as stubborn matter was, primally, to use his singular phraseology, the Heavenly Chaos, a soft and ductile substance, which could be moulded by the imagination of uncorrupted man into whatever forms he chose it to assume. 

"Strange as it may seem," he added, "the wild inventions (as we consider them) of the Arabian Tales give us some notion of the powers of the homo protoplastus. The prosperous city becomes a lake, the carpet transports us in an instant of time, or rather without time, from one end of the earth to another, the palace rises at a word from nothingness. Magic, we call all this, while we deride the possibility of any such feats; but this magic of the East is but a confused and fragmentary recollection of operations which were of the first nature of man, and of the fiat which was then entrusted to him."

-- "N", Arthur Machen, (p. 310)

In his story "N" -- the title likely taken from "n-dimension," potentially unlimited dimensions -- Machen stretches the protean understanding out to an insight on the structure of the universe itself. Before the "Fall" the universe was "originally fluid" and the "servant" of the spirit of man. It was subject to that "fiat which was then entrusted to him." 

The power to create whole worlds instantly with words alone -- "Let there be Light..." was our original gift. Imagination was once acknowledged as standing beyond all law and necessity and was rightfully experienced as being coupled with the substance of mater. Fairy tales and the Arabian Nights are textual survivals of this primary vision, a vision which is perpetuated in shamanic excursions, nocturnal dream-flight and the full expressions of poetry.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

'Moments of visionary enthusiasm' -- Eight questions for Znore

[The following was first published on the website on January 28, 2021. A big thanks to Tom and all his readers.

Znore is the author of Death Sweat of the Cluster (pictured above), a collection of pieces selected from his blog, Groupname for Grapejuice. 

I enjoyed the book a great deal, and I thought it would be fun to ask Znore to take a few questions about topics covered in the book. This is one of my favorite interviews that I've published here.

If you like this interview, see my earlier interview with Znore. 

RAW Illumination: When I read your book, it made me want to read or re-read many of the books you mention, i.e. I plan to read the new translation of "The Odyssey" by Emily Wilson and right now I am trying to read the Bible from start to finish, something I've never done, even though I read the New Testament when I was a teenager. I also plan to read more James Joyce, and I just wonder if that's one of the reactions you were hoping for.

Znore: Yes, this is exactly a response I was hoping for. Umberto Eco wrote, to paraphrase, that Finnegans Wake is the paradigm of his idea of the "open work". Essentially this means that there is no fixed and final reading of the text, that it is completely open to chance and novel interpretations, and that it continually urges us to venture outside of itself into the entire field and experience of literature and life in general. Riffing on this idea, I've thought that in the wake of the Wake all books turn into the Wake. All texts become open works; they can all be read as if they are incorporated into the webwork of Finnegans Wake. And with Jacques Derrida -- another thinker who was profoundly affected by the Wake, who said that it singularly did not need to be deconstructed because it is deconstruction itself -- there arrives the idea that there is nothing outside of the text, nothing in experience that cannot be "read". These are ideas that I'm playing with, that I may be misreading but that is also the point. Obviously I cannot rewrite the Wake, or even approach it, but I can try to emulate this aspect of it. These essays, now in my book, were written with the aspiration that they would inspire readers to open other books, to view the opening of books and the linking together of books as being a kind of adventure, and then to further extend this process throughout all media and all moments of perception. Not that humble! I'm happy if this book has provoked you and other readers to read more.

RAW Illumination: I liked your efforts to reclaim Ezra Pound's literary legacy, and I like your approach, i.e. acknowledging his terrible prejudices and not trying to excuse them, but also arguing that they don't invalidate his literary work. The world seems increasingly polarized politically -- do you worry that his reputation will fall? 

Znore: Ezra Pound is a vitally important figure to consider at precisely this time. His influence on poetry is enormous. And his influence on prose -- through Hemingway and others, and through his literary criticism -- is just as immense. And Pound, in his own time, tirelessly promoted other writers and artists and brought them to the attention of the world. Modernism without Pound would undoubtedly have had far less impact. On top of this, Pound's own writing in the Cantos and his earlier poetry is not to be missed. But -- Pound was also a fascist and an antisemite who eventually prodded, on Rome radio during WW2, U.S. and other Allied soldiers to support the Axis powers. Even though towards the end of his life he renounced his former antisemitism, this part of Pound's work and career should not be ignored. U.S. poet and reluctant Pound disciple, Charles Olson likely put it best:

It is not enough to call him a fascist.

He is a fascist, the worst kind, the intellectual fascist, this filthy apologist and mouther of slogans which serve men of power. It was a shame upon all writers when this man of words, this succubus, sold his voice to the enemies of the people.

Second generation Beat poet, Ed Sanders, in his Tales of Beatnik Glory, discusses the "Lb Q" or "Pound Question" that was on the minds of poets in the late '50s and early '60s: Pound is a poetic genius but he's also a complete reactionary; what can we do with him? Certainly his fascist influence has continued to the present day through groups like the CasaPound in Italy and followers of Eustace Mullins in the U.S. I don't think Pound's reputation can be completely redeemed. Without going extensively into it here, his fascist worldview is far too tied up with his thoughts on economics and history, his spirituality and even his poetics to entirely overlook it. Yet, especially by taking the perspective of what Pound called "Eleusis" in his work, there is much that is inspiring and beautiful in Pound also.

But I think the main reason why Pound is so relevant today, is that he represents a kind of archetype or figure from the interwar era: an avant-garde and libertarian writer and artist who was somehow seduced by the worst kind of political movement.  And echoes of this process can be heard and felt at this very moment. Just as Pound and other bohemian artists spiraled towards fascism, too many bloggers, artists, occultists, creative people have veered off in a reactionary direction over the past decade or more. (Maybe in response to excessive political correctness, which also had its parallels in Pound's day.) I've seen this happen in real time. The life of Ezra Pound can act as a cautionary tale in this regard.  

RAWIllumination: As I wrote in my blog post today, William Blake apparently is a more influential writer than I realized, and  you write a lot about Blake in your book. What is it about Blake that would particularly appeal to a Robert Anton Wilson fan?

Znore: I think there are many points of contact between William Blake and Robert Anton Wilson. The character Blake Williams in Schrödinger's Cat is an obvious hat tip, but there is a much wider shared understanding of the two writers. Even if RAW was not directly influenced by Blake -- which I'm sure he was -- he would have been affected by the poet's worldview through writers, like Joyce and Pound, who did deeply influence Wilson's thought. Aside from these influences, though, is simply the immense and almost atmospheric presence of Blake within the mid-20th century counterculture that RAW played a vital part within: from Allen Ginsberg's 1948 "Blake Vision" in Harlem, which set Ginsberg off on his career as poet-prophet, to Jim Morrison & the Doors (of perception), to the constant ubiquity of Blake within the pages of the underground press.   

Yet aside from this general influence, there are also quite specific overlappings of the ideas of the two. In Jerusalem, Blake wrote that “I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.” This emphasis on creating one's own system or set of beliefs and not getting "enslaved" or ensnared by someone else's belief system (BS) is at the heart of RAW's thought. A difference between the two might be that, in his prophetic epics and related poetry, Blake did create a vast and complex mythological/theological system, whereas Wilson, while he explored and played with countless ideas and philosophies, was content to take an ironic stance of "transcendental agnosticism" without constructing his own elaborate system (although one could argue that he approaches this in Prometheus Rising). 

What brings the two even closer together, though, is Blake's insistence that literal thought must be avoided altogether. The literal and historical existence of Jesus Christ, for example, was irrelevant to Blake. The thing that matters most is the mythological and symbolic significance of Jesus and his mission. Wilson, on the other hand, was an agnostic, but one that was entirely and quite uniquely open to mystical and visionary experience. The ultimate stress for both writers is the vigilant avoidance of moral dogmatism, be it priestly, governmental or scientific. Blake would have called himself a "Christian," but his Christianity was a non-dogmatic, visionary, life- and body-affirming gospel of the Imagination that RAW would likely have found little to disagree with:

I know of no other Christianity and of no other Gospel than the liberty both of body & mind to exercise the Divine Arts of Imagination.

Blake's affirmation of the desires and delights of the body -- to the point of practicing sex magic, according to certain scholars -- would have also appealed to RAW, as would Blake's insistence that "State Religion" is "the source of all Cruelty," and that the real battle is the "mental fight" between genuine and uncompromised visionaries of the imagination and those that use their creative talents to help justify power. These are just a few of the many points that unite Blake and RAW.

RAWIllumination: Where does the title of Death Sweat of the Cluster come from?

Znore: Well, one thing that the title does not have anything to do with -- contrary to what some have guessed -- is the "clusters" of the infected or of the fevered "death sweats" of COVID-19. This book has been in the making since 2016 and the title was chosen early on, so any connection of the title of the book, and its publication in 2020, to the ongoing pandemic is purely a "coincidance". In fact, the title is the opposite of anything morbid. And it is related to your last question because it's taken directly from the final sections of Blake's The Four Zoas. On one level, the "cluster" is a cluster of grapes and the "death sweat" is the juice or wine. In this way it is related to groupname for grapejuice. But on a deeper level, this is also Blake's culminating vision of the apocalypse; the spilling of the blood of tyrants and also the communion festival for the great harvest of the ascending era. There's a kind of unsettling ambiguity in this symbolism -- at once containing the end and the beginning, tragedy and comedy, night and day -- that I try to probe and linger within throughout the book.

RAWIllumination: I have started reading the entire Bible (partially influenced by your book) and it seems to me Finnegans Wake is a kind of modernist Bible, in the sense that reading and understanding Joyce is almost as fundamental to understanding modern literature as reading the Bible has been to understanding older literature for centuries. (At the end of TSOG, RAW remarks that Joyce invented the "New Yorker" story with Dubliners, invented multiple viewpoint novels with Ulysses and invented a new hologrammatic style with Finnegans Wake.)

Znore: Yes, I would agree that Joyce and Finnegans Wake are pretty crucial to understanding modern literature. I notice traces and obvious winks to the Wake in the works of Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, William Gaddis, Thomas Pynchon, Philip K. Dick, William Gass, Jorge Borges, Vladimir Nabokov, David Foster Wallis, Mark Z. Danielewski and on and on, whether this influence is acknowledged or not. It's actually quite difficult to avoid the vortex. So in that sense Finnegans Wake has this parallel with the Bible. 

The difference, of course, is that it would be very hard to base a religion -- at least a traditional one -- on Finnegans Wake. Like I said before, the Wake is an entirely open book. It is impossible to give just one interpretation of it. It resists any form of dogmatism, any ethical or moral systematizing, completely. And it constantly demands that the reader doubt its own seriousness. We are never really certain if the whole thing might not simply be a colossal practical joke. This would seem to be the exact opposite of what the Bible is. But is it?

In the book, I mention that Norman O. Brown (another influence on RAW) wrote that only after understanding the Wake, could Westerners ever hope to grok the Koran. He meant that the Koran itself is such a rich and "avant-garde" text that it requires a heightened literacy to appreciate it. But could the same be said about the Bible? In other words, is the Bible itself just as much of an open work as the Wake is? Do we only now have the capacity to read it as the open and multi-dimensional text that it truly is? Yet we must always remember that kabbalists, poets and mystics of all sorts have for centuries interpreted the biblical writings in non-reductive, creative and esoteric readings. Finnegans Wake, in actively encouraging these types of readings, is merely a part of this deeper tradition.

RAW is right to say that the Wake has a "hologrammatic style," but it should be remembered that this idea appears in Blake, -- "to see a World in a Grain of Sand" -- in the Hermetic writings -- "that which is above is like to that which is below" -- and back to Plato's Timaeus and earlier. But the Wake, maybe uniquely, captures these ideas in a "style", embodies the living microcosmic-macrocosmic correspondence within its every page. And it not only does this, but it transforms and enables one to read all other books as this also. So if the Wake becomes the Bible, the Bible -- alive to this same tradition --  also becomes the Wake.

RAWIllumination: I'm curious why you decided not to do an ebook of Death Sweat of the Cluster. Do you ever read ebooks, or do they seem like not "real" books to you?

Znore: The main reason for not publishing an ebook is that almost all of this material is still available -- as blog posts -- online. I wanted to shift this writing into a different medium, a printed book. I wanted a tactile object that could be touched, smelt and even tasted if desired. In certain ways, the once dominant and totalizing medium of print has somewhat surprisingly become, in McLuhan's sense, an anti-environment. It at least has the potential to temporarily release the reader from the current tyranny of networked screens. Blog posts, ebooks and even audiobooks do not have the full ability to do this, in my experience, as they remain more or less disposable or interchangeable files within the neverending feed. Physical books, even if they were published and distributed through these networks (as mine is unfortunately by Amazon), can be set apart, and in reading them the reader can -- for a time -- be set apart as well. I'm not opposed to ebooks or audiobooks, but I understand that they are certainly different sorts of media and that their "message" changes accordingly. 

RAWIllumination: Do you have a favorite literary critic whom you read for pleasure or insight?

Znore: Ezra Pound cautioned that readers should avoid critics who have not published any notable creative work themselves. I get where Pound is coming from -- there should be some proof that the critics really know their business -- but I've also found that certain literary criticism can be inspired and inspiring in itself. The work of Northrop Frye on Blake I'd include in this, and Frye himself is a fascinating foil and "rival" to his University of Toronto English department colleague, Marshall McLuhan. In fact, McLuhan's work can be viewed as "extended" literary criticism, and I certainly value his insights. Kathleen Raine, an accomplished poet who would handily pass Pound's test, is an excellent literary scholar of Blake, Yeats, Shelley, etc. I also enjoy Marsha Keith Schuchard's work on Blake's possible sexual magic. Frances Yates' many books on Renaissance esotericism -- though I'm not sure if these can be classed as literary criticism -- are always exciting.

In general, I'm not that interested in criticism that tends to emphasize the merely formal or stylistic elements of writing. Yet these elements can be fascinating if they are related, as they often are, with the visionary architecture of the work. I think what I'm looking for in lit crit are "clues," explanations of signs, cyphers and symbols that I may have overlooked, a kind of solidarity of enthusiasm with someone more dedicated than myself; guides that make the way clearer and point outside of the text to the greater and endless weaving of influences and pulses that holds and runs through all lasting verse and prose. Emerson, another inspired poet and critic, wrote that often critics are too much concerned with the "material" side of literature -- what the writer "does" over what he/she "says". In contrast, he states that poets know that they are expressing themselves "adequately" when speaking "somewhat wildly." 

This, even though far from poetry, is essentially the "method" in Death Sweat. The book is not meant to be academic literary criticism or even to resemble it. I have too much respect for real criticism to pretend otherwise. So it's not criticism and it's not journalism. It's loose, it's "wild" -- even silly and embarrassing at times -- and it's primarily concerned with burrowing into moments of visionary enthusiasm in books & films & pop culture & current events & in my own experiences, moments of "bust thru". It's a flawed and stumbling ode to that sort of gibberish and doggerel which somehow captures a glimpse of the eternal. And that's also the category of both lit and lit crit that I find most attractive.

RAW Illumination: I am generally up for reading difficult or demanding books and authors, but to tell you the truth, whenever I read a passage from Finnegans Wake, I am worried about actually being able to read it from start to finish. What can you tell me (if you wish to) to assuage my anxiety?

Znore: Just a short answer for this. I remember RAW somewhere saying that the Wake should be read out loud, and if at all possible read with other people while drinking Irish stout (weed would also do). I heartily agree. I read Finnegans Wake as music, as a sort of unhinged free jazz with Celtic instruments. If you read and listen to it as music, you will quickly notice repeating or "rhyming" themes and motifs and eventually these will take on meaning and then constellate into greater patterns of meaning. Yet attaining the precise or "correct" meaning is secondary. When Joyce was asked about the accuracy of the French translation of the Wake, he replied that the sound was most important. As long as the sound (in French or whatever) carried the reader along its "message" had been successfully transmitted. Of course the many existing guidebooks help, too. I think RAW also said that FW was the funniest and sexiest book he'd ever read. I wouldn't argue with that either. Nothing to be intimidated by!